It's a pendant that harkens back to the late Renaissance period ... credited by some to be the work of Benvenuto Cellini. However ... here's the conundrum. There are some that believe that the Canning Jewel originated in the 1580's in which case Cellini ... who died in 1571 ... could not have made it. Unless he knew something we don't. But bah I say ... why should we tinker with such trivialities. Let the experts figure it out while we enjoy this small masterpiece.
It is a sculpture of a merman holding a raised sword in a victory stance over what appears to be a beheaded sea dragon. Are there parts of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon that hearken back to a different mythological origin at work here I wonder? Here's what it is: The Saint George narrative takes place in Libya and our little merman has its origins in Italy and then India ... a separation of a tad under 4000 miles. A small incidental I think we should ignore as facts very often tend to intrude upon our belief systems and should therefore be avoided as much as possible. I say Saint George may well have been a merman ... or else the coincidence is a tad too odd.
As to the pearls It was not uncommon for Renaissance jewelers to use baroque pearls in the creation of sculptured pendants. From the 15th to the 17th centuries large quantities of baroque pearls had been imported into Europe from areas like the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar as well Venezuela and Colombia and Panama. Unfortunately, the demand for these pearls were low due to their odd shapes. They did now fit into the available jewelry of the day. And so ... the Jewelry Craftsman stepped in. He was the creator ... the idea man ... and the executor of innovative jewels using the new materials at hand. The results were stunning. No computers and computer design aided software back then. All hand made. And most of it stunning.
Which bring us ... by way of a super-segue ... to the Medicis. While the belief is that a Medici ruler gave a Moghul emperor the pendant ... the sad thing is that no one knows the identity of either the Medici or the Moghul. And here's another little kicker ... the Medicis in their origins were nothing more than part of the bourgeoisie and achieved aristocratic status only after its founder amassed great wealth and subsequently became the ruler of Florence. So ... does this bit of information negate the possibility that the transfer was indeed made from them to them. Nah. Everyone knows that money and power make rulers. And the Medicis did become great patrons of the arts.
Which brings us to how the Canning Jewel got its name. It appears that after the fall of Delhi in 1857 the then Viscount Canning came into its possession by the powers vested in him as the Governor General of India either as a gift or by appropriation. Some say one ... some say the other. I say an appropriated gift is an appropriate gift and let the theories fall where they may. And that my friends ... is that.
And so now ... represented on our pages for your viewing pleasure ... The Canning Jewel ... a work of the highest caliber.