- Place of origin:
ca. 1500-1525 (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
Gold, cast and enamelled
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, case 8
This precious item once had four gold loops around the rim so that it could be sewn onto a man's hat. These types of jewels are more commonly called 'hat badges'. This badge depicts a traditional representation of St John the Baptist, whose severed head was presented by Herod Antipas to the dancing girl Salome. In the Middle-Ages the cult of the saint was very popular, especially after 1206 when the head of the saint - apart from the lower maxillary - had been transferred from Constantinople to Amiens in Normandy, which became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for worshipping the Saint in the late Middle Ages.
Tradition has it that Herodias (mother of Salome, criticised by Saint John) was so furious with John that she hit his severed head with a blade. This wound is seen on the relic at Amiens, and also on this jewel.
Numerous other sites possessed relics associated with John and from the beginning of the 13th c. images of the saint proliferated across Europe in many media. The macabre representation of his head on a platter was very common. Another reason for the popularity of the image of the saint may be found in the nature of the piety at the end of the Middle Ages.
Hat badge, gold, enamelled. The circular badge with a cabled wire border, between cabled edging an openwork inscription 'INTER* NATOS* MVLIERVM* NON* SVREXSIT*' (Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen [a greater than John the Baptist]' The inscription with remains of white opaque enamel, the florets between words with remains of green enamel. The central disc with the severed head of St John the Baptist on a fluted platter. The high relief head of the saint in white and gold enamel en ronde bosse, the platter with translucent red enamel. On the reverse are traces of a lead solder and traces ofattachment loops
Place of Origin
ca. 1500-1525 (made)
Materials and Techniques
Gold, cast and enamelled
Marks and inscriptions
'INTER* NATOS* MVLIERVM* NON* SVREXSIT*'
'Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen [a greater than John the Baptist]'
Depth: 0.8 cm, Diameter: 4.2 cm
Object history note
Sold to the V&A by John Webb in 1873 for £40.
Historical context note
This jewel depicts a traditional representation of St John the Baptist in disco.
St John the Baptist criticised Herod Antipas because he married his own brother's wife, Herodias. Marrying one's brother's wife while he is still alive is not allowed by Jewish law. St John the Baptist was then jailed. At his birthday supper, Herod asked Salome, the young daugther of Herodias, to dance before him. Charmed by the beauty of her dance, the king said to her, "Ask of me whatsoever you will and I will give it to you... unto half my kingdom." Asking her mother first, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter in revenge for the embarrassment that John had caused.
In the Middle-Ages the cult of the saint was very popular, especially after 1206 when the head of the saint - apart from the lower maxillary - had been transferred from Constantinopolis to Amiens in Normandy, which became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for worshipping the Saint in the late Middle Ages. Tradition has it that Herodias was so furious with John that she hit his severed head with a blade. This wound is seen on the relic at Amiens, and also on this jewel.
Numerous other sites possessed relics associated with John and from the beginning of the 13th c. images of the saint proliferated across Europe in many media. The macabre representation of his head on a platter was very common. Another reason for the popularity of the image of the saint may be found in the nature of the piety at the end of the Middle Ages. The suffering of the human being excited fascination and was often depicted in morbid detail. The human head on a platter was therefore a strong image, often depicted with emphasis put on the neck's bones, blood and open veins. This iconography was frequently used in the following centuries. Lead badges from the saint's shrine were popular souvenirs from the 14th to the 16th century. Carved on the 16th c. choir stall at Amiens is a depiction of a vendor selling pilgrim badges with the head of St John the Baptist on a disk. The head of Saint John in disco was also worn as a protection against headache.
This hat badge is a grander version of such devotionalia. The enseigne, a badge worn on the hat as an emblem of faith and distinction, is the most characteristic male ornament of the early Renaissance period. According to Y. Hackenbroch (1996) the fashion was initiated by Charles VIII of France. It was a court jewel derived from the pilgrim badge and the military signs seen on caps or sleeves. Medallists, goldsmiths and jewellers produced badges using humanist, as well as military or religious themes. They became a sign of the wearer's personality or endeavour. The fashion spread from France to the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, England. The religious, political and social changes resulting from the Counter-Reformation and Mannerism brought to an end the short vogue of the enseigne. A few great examples survive. Many portraits recall this trend.
Accounts of expenditure reveal that when on pilgrimage, kings and members of their family and court ordered pilgrim badges with holy images to commemorate their journey. Y. Hackenbroch relates this roundel to descriptions in the royal inventory of 1560:
'439: Ung petit chef de Saint Jehan en ung plat de verre garnie d'or.
462: Ung petit jaspe garnie d'or, ou il y a une petite teste de Saint Jehan, la bordure esmaillee rouge
514: Ung chef de Saint Jehan dans un petit plat d'agate.'
The latin inscription refers to the Gospel passage in which Jesus said: "Amen dico vobis non surrexit inter natos mulierum maior Iohanne Baptista qui autem minor est in regno caelorum maior est illo " (Amen, I say to you, among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. ) ( Matt. 11:11). It is commonly used on representations of St John the Baptist. On a very similar badge in the Alsdorf Collection, the inscription reads however SANCTI JOHANNES BAPTISTA ORA PRO.
The head of the Saint was cast in gold in high relief and enamelled in the technique known as ronde-bosse enamelling. The technique originated in France and was perfected toward the end of the 14th c. The figure in high-relief was first modelled in gold. Then the surface of the gold was roughened slightly to provide a keying for the enamel. The enamel was then applied and fired. Details could be added on top of the first layer and fired again but the extra firing increased the risks of failure.
See Barbara Baert 'The Johannesschussel as Andachtsbild: the gaze, the medium and the senses' in 'Disembodied Heads in Medieval and Early Modern Culture', edited by Catrien Santing, Barbara Baert, Anita Traningerfor a discussion of St John the Baptist in disco.
Hat Badge, gold, enamelled, with the head of St John the Baptist on a platter, French, ca. 1500-1525
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Bury, Shirley, Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982), p.68, Case 13, Board A, no.11
Renaissance Jewellery in the Alsdorf Collection( The Art Insitute of Chicago, Museum Studies, 2000) p.33
Hackenbroch, Yvonne, Enseignes, Renaissance Hat Jewels (Firenze, 1996)
Barbara Baert, The Johannesschüssel as Andachtsbild: the gaze, the medium and the senses in Catrien Santing, Barbara Baert and Anita Traniger (eds. ) Disembodied heads in medieval and early modern culture, Leiden, 2013 pp. 117-160
Church, Rachel. Catalogue entry. In: Carmen Morte García, José Ángel Sesma Muñoz and José Félix Méndez de Juan, eds, <u>Fernando II de Aragón. El rey que imaginó España y la abrió a Europa</u>. Catalogue of the exhibition held in Zaragoza, Palacio de la Aljafería, March 10 - June 7, 2015. Zaragoza: Gobierno de Aragón, 2015. ISBN 9788483802700.
Labels and date
Enamelled gold. The Head of Saint John the Baptist on a charger. Inscribed: INTER NATOS MVLIERVM NON SVREXSIT 'Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen [a greater than John the Baptist]'
FRENCH: early 16th century.
See: Bury, 1982, Case 13, Board A, no.11 
Jewellery; Metalwork; Fashion; Christianity; Europeana Fashion Project