Rare, Enamelled Silver Pendant with Carnelian Cameo
18th century & earlier
height: 3.5cm (not including the ring), width: 2.4cm, weight: 13g
This very rare ensemble of a carved carnelian stone in a setting of Lucknow enamel silver most probably is unique.
The setting is typical of 18th century enamel on silverwork that was being undertaken in Lucknow. The silver has been engraved with Mughal-inspired flowers, that has been in-filled with green and blue enamel. Such work is more usually seen on larger
paan (betel) boxes and hookah bases.
The carved carnelian cameo is in high relief and shows a woman with her hair swept back. It is possible that the carnelian is much earlier. The styling is in keeping with stonework images from the Kushana period (circa 2nd century AD) and found in Uttar Pradesh (Lucknow is the capital of Uttar Pradesh state), and also with some images found nearby at Sarnath and which date to the sixth century.
It is possible that the pendant (or at least the carved carnelian) was intended to serve as a second marriage amulet, where by the new wife of a widower would wear an amulet or pendant meant to propitiate the soul of the deceased first wife and mollify any feelings of jealousy that the spirit of the first wife might have towards the second wife. Such ornaments sometimes featured the face of the first wife. This is an old custom. Untracht (1997, p. 170) illustrates a rock crystal pendant carved with a Hindu man’s dead wife’s face which is dated to the first century BC.
The pendant has a pleasing thickness and a good weight in the hand. The silver is likely to be solid all the way through rather than filled with lac.
Gupta, S.P. (ed.), Masterpieces from the National Museum Collection, National Museum, New Delhi, 1985.
et al, The Golden Age of Classical India: The Gupta Empire, Reunion des Musees Nationaux, 2007.
Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames & Hudson, 1997.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 3457