Torre Abbey Jewel
- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
Enamelled gold, scrollwork
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, Room 58, case 3 
This is a pendant jewel, which would have hung from a chain. It is a powerful example of a type of jewellery known as memento mori (roughly translated from the Latin as 'Remember you must die').
Ownership & Use
The skeleton and coffin reminded the wearer that death, and therefore judgement, were certain, and so it encouraged a virtuous life. The inscription, however, shows that the wearer believed that we need not fear death. It states boldly in English that through Christ's resurrection - his sacrifice on the Cross and his rising from the dead - we are all 'sanctified' or made holy. His death takes away our sins.
In 1856, when the V&A bought the jewel for £21, it was believed to have been found in the grounds of Torre Abbey, Devon. However, this does not mean that it had any connection with Torre Abbey when it was a monastery. Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries (their closure) in the later 1530s, and the jewel appears to date from no earlier than the 1540s. Parts of the abbey were in due course converted into a private house. We know nothing definite about the history of the jewel until the V&A acquired it. It was probably sold by the Cary family who lived in the house from 1662 until the early 20th century.
Memento mori pendant, in the form of a skeleton in a coffin. Gold, enamelled in white and black, with the remains of opaque pale blue, white, yellow, translucent green, and dark blue enamel on the upper scrollwork.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Enamelled gold, scrollwork
Marks and inscriptions
'THRONGH. [sic] THE. RESVRRECTION. OF CHRISTE. WE. BE. ALL. SANCTIFIED.'
Height: 8 cm, Width: 2.3 cm, Depth: 1.3 cm
Object history note
Reputedly found at Torre Abbey, Devon
Aspects of Age Exhibition RF.2005/727
The Torre Abbey Jewel, memento mori pendant in the form of a skeleton in a coffin, enamelled gold, England, ca.1540-1550
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.
Somers-Cock, Anna, Princely Magnificence: court jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630, V&A, 1980, p51, cat. 13
Labels and date
This dramatic jewel would have been worn as a pendant. The delicate enamelled skeleton lies in a coffin similar in shape to real coffins of the time. This was a stark reminder to the wearer of inevitable death. The inscription declares the belief in the triumph of Christ over death. [27/03/2003]
Skeletons; Death; Coffins; Scroll-work
ELISE; Metalwork; Death; Jewellery; Europeana Fashion Project