Cupid on horseback

WB.160     1500–1600 (?) • pendant

Curator's Description

Pendant jewel; gold; form of galloping white horse ridden by blindfolded cupid; saddle-cloth set with two lines of small rubies, triangular emerald at each end; one large pendant pearl and four smaller ones attached to hooves; double suspension chain of enamelled quatrefoils set with ruby; double-tailed mermaid at top with ruby at breast.

This object was collected and bequeathed to the British Museum by Ferdinand Anselm Rothschild.

How big is it?

3.6 cm wide, 7.6 cm high, 1 cm deep, and it weighs 28.3g

Detailed Curatorial Notes

Text from Tait 1986:-

Origin: German, late 16th century.

Provenance: None is recorded.

Commentary: The subject of Cupid shooting his arrows was a popular theme in Renaissance art and occurs in endlessly varied forms in the minor arts, not least in the field of jewellery and goldsmiths' work. Examples have been preserved in the Danish Royal Collections (no. 603; attributed to Corvinianus Saur, c. 1600), in the Hermitage, Leningrad, and elsewhere.

Among the Renaissance jewels in the Hapsburg Imperial Collections in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, is a delightful version of this subject of Cupid on horseback shooting arrows with his bow (illus. in Hackenbroch 1979, fig. 694, where it is attributed to “The Netherlands, c. 1590”, though without comment or any firm evidence). Although the Cupid on the Vienna jewel turns his head in the opposite direction, his body sits sideways on the horse in exactly the same pose. The horse, however, is very different with gold 'dots' showing through the white enamel over its entire body; furthermore, it is represented trotting sedately, with its long tail hanging down. The harness is similarly gem-encrusted - also the horse's forehead - whilst pendant pearls hang from the hooves, the tail and the girth under the belly. The two suspension chains are attached in the same way, and the chains (of uneven length) are composed of gem-set sexfoils, with a small gem-set 'cartouche' of a scrollwork pattern at the top.

The fashion for attaching pendant pearls to the hooves or feet of an animal is to be seen again on a beautifully modelled Pegasus and lion pendant in the Medici collections at the Palazzo Pitti, Florence; the galloping Pegasus with its wings outstretched is an incomparably finer work attributed to a Netherlands goldsmith, working at the Medici court “c. 1575” (see Hackenbroch 1979, fig. 681). However, the origin of many of these realistic but gentle animal pendants is problematical, though the white-enamelled stag in flight pendant, which is preserved in the Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden, and is studded with diamonds and rubies, appears to derive, perhaps even directly, from the woodcuts of the Nuremberg artist, Jost Amman (1539 - 91), for a fuller discussion of whose work see cat. no. 10 (pp. 98 - 100) [WB.177]. Although his influence on the design of the Waddesdon jewel cannot be precisely demonstrated, it seems likely that the Nuremberg attribution, first proposed in Read 1902 and more tentatively repeated in Dalton 1927, may be correct, for this jewel has many of the features that characterise the almost 'anecdotal' quality of Jost Amman's subjects and the jewels that his woodcuts appear to have inspired.


  • Charles Hercules Read, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest: Catalogue of the Works of Art bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898’, London, 1902, no. 160, pl. XXXVI
  • O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 160
  • Yvonne Hackenbroch, ‘Renaissance Jewellery’, Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, London, New York and Munich, 1979, fig. 410 (no text)
  • Hugh Tait, 'Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. 1., The Jewels', British Museum, London, 1986, no. 18, pls. XIV, XV, fig. 115.
  • References

    1. Read 1902: Read, Charles Hercules, The Waddesdon Bequest. Catalogue of the Works of Art Bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898, London, BMP, 1902
    2. Dalton 1927: Dalton, Ormonde Maddock, The Waddesdon Bequest : jewels, plate, and other works of art bequeathed by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild., London, BMP, 1927
    3. Tait 1986: Tait, Hugh, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum; I The Jewels, London, BMP, 1986

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