Objects of personal adornment

The jewellery collection of the Museum consists essentially of pieces acquired by religious establishments, received as part of the dowries of novices, as gifts from royalty or as bequests. Jewellery from before the 16th century is very rare as it was usual for people to dismantle their jewels and reset them according to fashion. An exception is the 14th century necklace (fig. 1) , belonging to the ‘treasure of Queen Saint Isabel’ (see p. 74), a result of very unusual circumstances.

The 16th century is the setting for a new lifestyle fascinated by the Far East and its secrets. Lisbon becomes the centre of attraction for the precious raw materials from overseas (gold, Indian diamonds, seed pearls, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, amber, coral, etc.) and a trading post for foreign jewelers and gem cutters who settle here. Luxury and refinement dictate fashion for both the clergy and the layman whose gifts and orders reveal a taste aspiring after the exotic.

There is widespread use of drop-shaped or circular pendants with engraved or enameled figures, enriched with pearls or gems, and occasionally adorned with cameos based on classical or religious themes (figs. 2 and 4 ).

Precious stones predominate in the 17th century as jewellery becomes an excuse to exhibit everything that glitters, anticipating the splendour that the diamond is to bring to the following century (fig. 5)

Despite the crisis overshadowing the country, jewellery does not appear to be affected. The overall theme is highly religious, with a proliferation of gold and exotic wood rosaries and crosses, usually engraved with floral, geometric or sacred motifs and decorated with enameling. The mounts and settings become increasingly refined and the creativity of the jewelers seems to be infused with the floral motifs in vogue. This may have been the influence of the botanical experiments made by Jean Robin (late 16th cent.) and divulged in engravings. The famous ‘laça nortenha’ (pendant brooch in the shape of a bow, typical in the north of Portugal) is garnished with foliage and enriched by the application of small diamonds (figs. 7 , 9 and 10 ). Influenced by the art of filigree work during the 17th century, it becomes the Portuguese jewel par excellence and continues to be so for over two centuries.
Increasingly, the exuberant floral motifs become so complicated that they almost merge into one another. This treatment is also applied to bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings. These last items appear in the middle of the century – when it becomes fashionable for ladies to wear the hair up – being characterized by their mounts composed of three connecting pieces, the middle piece being a double bow (fig. 7) and the lower one a pendeloque. During the same period the elongated drop earrings lavishly decorated with garnets (fig. 8) , are also typical of work from the Iberian Peninsula.
The ‘tremulos’ or ‘tremedeiras’ (aigrette) – ingenious hair pins covered in gems to great theatrical effect – give an essential final touch to the toilette.
During the same century, the sequilé also becomes popular, especially in the south of Portugal, employing a technique similar to that of the ‘northern bow’. This variation on the pendant is of French origin and also known as a rosicler, however it does not have a double bow and is shaped like an elongated diamond with four or five pendeloques.
The reliquary crosses decorated with religious figures and enamel work and the pendants painted with miniatures or decorated with enamel, illustrate the continuation of a popular taste during the end of the century , soon to terminate with the triumph of jewellery over goldsmithery.
Following international taste the 18th century, nourished by the great diamond mines of India and Brazil, becomes the era of the diamond.