Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Torre Abbey Jewel

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England, Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1540-1550 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Enamelled gold, scrollwork

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, room 58c, case 3

Object Type
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.

Physical description

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

England, Great Britain (made)


1540-1550 (made)


unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Enamelled gold, scrollwork

Marks and inscriptions



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

Descriptive line

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 Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997. 431 p., ill. ISBN 1851773088.
This jewel, reputedly found on the grounds of Torre Abbey, is one of the Museum's early acquisitions of Tudor goldsmiths' work. In the mid-sixteenth century - around the time the pendant was made - the Torre Abbey property passed from the ownership of the church to that of a private family named Pollard following the dissolution of the monasteries during the Reformation. Memento mori jewelry such as this, with its unflinching use of the symbols of death and its purposeful message - "remember you must die" - was widely worn in Western Europe during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Its intention was to encourage virtuous living, thereby distinguishing it from mourning jewelry of later periods, which most often commemorated the deaths of particular individuals. Moresque decoration such as that on the coffin was in wide use throughout Europe from the 1530s, but the inscription confirms the pendant's English origin.

Lit. Clifford Smith, 1908, p. 365; Evans, 1970, p. 143; Somers Cocks, 1980, p. 51; Llewellyn, 1991, p. 96; Scarisbrick, 1995, p. 51

Somers-Cock, Anna, Princely Magnificence: court jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630, V&A, 1980, p51, cat. 13

Exhibition History

A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)
Aspects of Age, Death and Memento Mori (Schnütgen-Museum, Köln 07/09/2006-26/11/2006)

Labels and date

British Galleries:
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]


Gold; Enamel



Subjects depicted

Death; Scroll-work; Coffins; Skeletons


Metalwork; Death; Jewellery; Europeana Fashion Project

Collection code


Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.