Amulet thumbnail 1
Amulet thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Jewellery, Rooms 91 to 93 mezzanine, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery

Amulet

1800-1900 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Amulets were worn by men, women and children throughout southern Europe in the 19th century. Before the development of modern medicine, fevers, cramps and toothache could be painful and dangerous. Childbirth could kill mother or child. Many people believed that the supernatural powers embodied in an amulet could promote fertility and good health and offer protection against malign forces or the ‘evil eye’. Although the Catholic Church was opposed to the pagan nature of many amulets, it was powerless to prevent their use.

The ‘fig’ amulet, shaped like a clenched fist with the thumb protruding between the first and second fingers, is a very ancient amulet against the evil eye. It dates back at least to Roman times, and probably much earlier. This type, carved in jet, is unique to Spain. The carved image of the crescent moon with a human face would have added to its potency, as would the use of the material jet, which was considered to have protective powers. In Italy the figa amulet is still very popular, particularly in the south, but it seems to have gone out of use in Spain towards the end of the 19th century.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved black jet amulet in a silver mount, with silver chain attached
Brief Description
Amulet of a jet fist (higa) mounted in silver, Spain, 1800-1900.
Physical Description
Stylised right hand in the shape of a fist, with the thumb protruding between the first and second fingers, in a silver mount, hanging from a short length of loop-in-loop chain ending in a T-bar. On the palm side there is an engraved picture of a crescent moon with a human face.
Dimensions
  • Length: 12.4cm
  • Width: 2.4cm
  • Depth: 1.4cm
Credit line
Hildburgh Gift
Production
Worn by children, to protect them from the evil eye
Subjects depicted
Summary
Amulets were worn by men, women and children throughout southern Europe in the 19th century. Before the development of modern medicine, fevers, cramps and toothache could be painful and dangerous. Childbirth could kill mother or child. Many people believed that the supernatural powers embodied in an amulet could promote fertility and good health and offer protection against malign forces or the ‘evil eye’. Although the Catholic Church was opposed to the pagan nature of many amulets, it was powerless to prevent their use.



The ‘fig’ amulet, shaped like a clenched fist with the thumb protruding between the first and second fingers, is a very ancient amulet against the evil eye. It dates back at least to Roman times, and probably much earlier. This type, carved in jet, is unique to Spain. The carved image of the crescent moon with a human face would have added to its potency, as would the use of the material jet, which was considered to have protective powers. In Italy the figa amulet is still very popular, particularly in the south, but it seems to have gone out of use in Spain towards the end of the 19th century.

Bibliographic Reference
'Catalogo de Amuletos del Museo de Pueblo Espanol', Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid, 1987, no. 2,551, p. 68
Collection
Accession Number
M.22-1917

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record createdJanuary 11, 2008
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