The Fettercairn Jewel
The Fettercairn Jewel is an extremely rare example of Scottish Renaissance art. Previously unknown to scholars, it came to light when it was sent to auction from the private collection of the Forbes family of Fettercairn House, Aberdeenshire.
The oval gold locket is set with a large rectangular almandine garnet and decorated on the reverse with an image of the god Mercury in basse taille enamel. Other decoration includes an enamelled design of scrolling branches and leaves in green, blue and white on the front, and flowers, birds, buildings and a white dog in basse taille enamel on the back.
The locket, which would originally have been worn as a pendant on a chain, opens to reveal a plain gold interior. This probably once contained a miniature portrait on ivory or vellum. The pendant may have had a pearl or precious stone hanging beneath it.
National Museums Scotland has the largest collection of Scottish Renaissance material in the world, but the bulk of surviving pieces are arms and armour, tableware and architectural fragments. Personal items are rare, and jewellery is rarer still. Until recently the Scottish Renaissance was believed by scholars to be inferior to those of other European nations.
The Fettercairn Jewel represents a significant opportunity to reassess the art and craftsmanship of this period in Scotland, as well as the culture of courtly patronage and gift giving.
Research will now endeavour to uncover the history of the jewel, including the story of how it came into the Forbes family. Potential links between the jewel and the royal court will also be investigated, as well as any connection it may have to the Darnley Jewel, a magnificent pendant in the Royal Collection with which it shares similarities in design.
The Fettercairn Jewel is now on show in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Ascribed to the collection of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo (1739-1806); thence by descent through the Forbes family.