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Two ivory Chinese export Mignot-style pendants

Circa 1600-1650

Approx. H. 10. 4 x W. 7 cm & H. 12 x W 8 cm


These uncommon and distinctive pendants from the first half of the seventeenth century are made of ivory and almost definitely came from China. The front and rear scrollwork designs were inspired by engravings by Daniel Mignot, an Augsburg-based Huguenot, and his contemporaries. The pendant's basic style is Renaissance-era West European, but other elements point to its origin as being Asian. Prior to creating the final piece in gold, Renaissance goldsmiths would have transferred such designs onto models made of lead or other metals. Despite the fact that ivory samples have not been documented to date, the use of this material suggests and further supports an Eastern origin.

Daniel Mignot's printed ornamental patterns must have been familiar to the artisan who carved the ivory pendant, or he must have had duplicates of them in his studio. He engraved such jewels, and the scrollwork on the pendant's front plate is similar to his work. Between 1570 and 1620, scrollwork was a popular design throughout Europe. Because of this, Daniel Mignot's jewellery designs from the 1590s were crucially significant. The three-dimensional scrollwork and the presence of grotesque humans and animals are typical of his work from this period.

Likely, the green gemstones on the front were once emeralds that a subsequent owner had changed with the current ones, which are made of stained green chalcedony resembling emeralds. These latter replacements originate from circa 1920, when such stones were popular in jewellery. The owner either selected stones that were greener than the originals or wanted to extract money from the emeralds. Coral beads were most likely included at this point. Drop pearls were frequently attached from pendant loops along the lower rim, depending on the design, either a single pearl or three pearls. This is demonstrated by surviving Renaissance pendants and the colourful prints by Daniel Mignot. Drill holes at the lower border of the ivory pendant reveal that pearl droplets once existed there.

Early in the seventeenth century, a French Huguenot (Protestant), Daniel Mignot worked in Augsburg.
Between 1596 and 1616, he produced and extensively disseminated beautiful prints that featured several jewellery designs. The goldsmith, or in this case, the artisan who carved the exquisite ivory plaques, would have drawn inspiration from such beautiful engravings by Daniel Mignot or other contemporaries and modified them to suit their aesthetics. How did Chinese engravers of Daniel Mignot get their hands on such prints? One option is to join the Jesuits. The Jesuits saw the Chinese reverence for books and education when they arrived in China in the first part of the seventeenth century.

They understood that offering European books and other materials that matched the interests of the scientifically knowledgeable Jesuits would make it easier for others to approach the Court. The Jesuits' shared love of learning and research and their commitment to mastering Chinese reading, writing, and speaking provided crucial resources for their evangelization in China. The most notable of the early Jesuits was Matteo Ricci, an Italian who introduced Western science, mathematics, astronomy, and the visual arts to the Chinese Imperial Court. Consequently, similar patterns might have been present in the first European books.

The pendant similar to the ones above has been inspected by Beatriz Chadour-Sampson, a jewellery historian who worked on the treasure of the Nuestra Seora de la Concepcin, which sank off the coast of the Mariana Islands in 1638 on its route from Manila in the Philippines to Mexico. She was the co-curator of the V&A's 2013–14 Pearl Exhibition and the consulting curator for the new William & Judith Bollinger Jewellery. This design was well-known and can be traced in the jewellery recovered in the Nuestra Senora treasure, which the Spanish had Chinese workers create in European fashion for trade with Europe.

Source: Michael Backman ltd., London

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