Lamb of God (Agnus Dei)

WB.164     1600–1650 • pendant

Curator's Description

Pendant jewel; gold; lamb in white enamel, back formed of baroque pearl, seated on closed book; back of book with three bands, panels enamelled blue; underside is open-work with scrolls; clasps jewelled with rubies; four suspension chains united by cartouche; inscribed.

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

How big is it?

2.7 cm wide, 5.5 cm high, 2.5 cm deep, and it weighs 25g

Detailed Curatorial Notes

Text from Tait 1986:-

Origin: Spanish, early 17th century.

Provenance: Baron Anselm von Rothschild, Vienna, before 1866.

Commentary: The Llibres de Passanties in Barcelona contain apprenticeship drawings that demonstrate the early seventeenth-century fashion in Spain for jewels of this kind; in particular, folio 385 has a design for an Agnus Dei pendant by Agosti Castello dated 1609 (not dated '1593', as stated in Yvonne Hackenbroch, ‘Renaissance Jewellery’, Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, London, New York and Munich, 1979, p. 336, fig. 899). Agosti Castello has placed his Lamb on a richly patterned textile, which is knotted at the four corners and has four suspension chains united in a 'cartouche' with a central pendant pearl hanging above the Lamb.

Curiously, the closed book with handsome covers was a popular subject on its own among Spanish jewellers from the first half of the sixteenth century. Two later drawings in the Llibres de Passanties in Barcelona confirm the continuing fashion for these small gold enamelled pendants in the form of a closed book with elaborate strapwork covers and jewelled clasps: folio 401 is dated 1613 and was submitted by Mateu Torent; folio 410 is dated 1616 and is the work of Joseph Jordan. An extant gold enamelled version, with gem-set spine and covers, is illustrated in Priscilla E. Muller, ‘Jewels in Spain, 1500 – 1800’, The Hispanic Society of America, New York, 1972 (p. 70, fig. 98), and another was found in 1968 in the wreck of the Girona, one of the ships of the Spanish Armada which, under the command of Fabricio Spinola, escaped from the guns of the English fleet only to be destroyed on the rocks of the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland on 16 October 1588. This gold pendant book (with its tiny internal compartments) is now preserved in the Ulster Museum, Belfast. The little compartments may indicate that this small book was used as a sacred container for the pascal waxes of the Agnus Dei, blessed by the Pope at Easter in the first year of his Pontificate and on every succeeding seventh year (L.N.W. Flanagan, ‘The Wreck of the Girona’, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 1973, p. 3, where it is described as 'a Reliquary').

The style of the openwork strapwork covers of the Waddesdon Ecce Agnus Dei book corresponds so closely with the Barcelona drawings and the two other extant examples that the present attribution to Spain c. 1600-20 seems fully justified, despite the tentative attribution in Read 1902, “? French, 16th century”, also repeated in Dalton 1927. Representations of the Lamb of God seated on a book were part of the standard iconography, especially in Spain, and a pascal wax oval 'seal' dated 1677 is preserved in the Museo Episcopal in Vich, Spain (illustrated in Muller 1972, p. 73, fig. 104). It depicts the Agnus Dei seated on a closed book with two prominent clasps and the name of Pope Innocent XI in the encircling inscription; it was issued during the Pontificate in 1677.

Priscilla Muller, quoting from Spanish inventories of the sixteenth century, demonstrates how very varied the Agnus Dei jewels were and how often they included representations of other saints or emblematic figures; others examined or inventoried in jewellers' shops at the time were simply listed as “of gold with single or multiple chains, as was one bought from Juan Rodríguez for the Infanta Catalina” (see José Gestoso y Pérez, ‘Ensayo de un diccionario de los artífices . . . de Sevilla’, 3 vols, Seville, 1899-1909, vol. II, pp. 134, 181, 335, 348; vol. III, pp. 426-7; see also Antonio Rodríguez-Monino, Artes suntuarias en Badajoz (1562-1600); Antologia de materias preciosas, in ‘Boletín del Seminario de Estudios de Arte y Arqueología, Universidad de Valladolid’, X, 1944, pp. 81-97; also A. G. de Amezúa y Mayo, ‘Isabel de Valois, reina de Espana (1546-1568)’, 3 vols, Madrid, 1949, vol. III, p. 552).


  • Franz Schestag, ‘katalog der Kuntsammlung des Freiherrn Anselm von Rothschild in Wein’ Vienna, 1866, no. 339
  • 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. 164, pl. XXXVIII
  • O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 164
  • Hugh Tait, 'Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. 1., The Jewels', British Museum, London, 1986, no. 29, pl. XVIII, figs. 144-148.
  • 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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