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

The Canning Jewel

1850-1860 (made)
Place of origin

Pendant in the form of a merman with sword and shield; with a baroque pearl mounted in enamelled gold set with pearls, table-cut diamonds and carved Indian rubies.

Object details

Object type
TitleThe Canning Jewel (popular title)
Materials and techniques
Enamelled gold, set with baroque pearls, blister pearl, table-cut diamonds and Indian rubies
Brief description
'The Canning Jewel', pendant figure of a merman, baroque pearl mounted in enamelled gold, set with pearls, diamonds & rubies, probably made in Europe, about 1850-60.
Physical description
Pendant in the form of a merman with sword and shield; with a baroque pearl mounted in enamelled gold set with pearls, table-cut diamonds and carved Indian rubies.
  • Height: 10.5cm
  • Width: 6.5cm
  • Depth: 1.6cm
Credit line
Given by Mrs Edward S Harkness
Object history
Sold at Sotheby's, London, 16 July 1931, by Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood, for £10,000. Presented to the Victoria and Albert Museum by an 'Anonymous American friend, per Messrs Bluett and Sons, 48 Davies Street, London W.1.' who from 18 September 1933 allowed herself to be identified as Mrs Edward S. Harkness of Eolia, Goshen Point, New London, Connecticut.

The auction catalogue provides a detailed description and the biblographic references which are numbered 1 to 4 below. It offers the following history:

'This jewel, according to tradition, was a gift from a Prince of the House of Medici in Florence to one of the Moghul Emperors of India. It is said to have been found in the Treasury of the King of Oudh when Delhi was captured in the Indian Mutiny and having been appropriated by the Indian Government was bought from them by Earl Canning K.G. (1812-62), first Viceroy of India. It was included in the sale of Earl Canning's Indian Collection, May 16-20, 1863, no. 628* [sold for £300 to the London dealer, Durlacher] and passed into the possession of Earl Canning's brother-in-law, the first Marquess of Clanricarde (1802-74), from whom it was inherited by the second Marquess of Clanricarde (1832-1916), who bequeathed it to his great-nephew, the present owner.'

[The catalogue description for lot 628*, 16-20 May, 1863, is:

'A BEAUTIFUL PENDANT ORNAMENT, formed as a Triton holding a sword and shield; the body, a large barrock-pearl; the sword set with gems; the head and arms and the shield of very fine cinque-cento work in enamel' ]

1. Loan Exhibition of Ancient and Modern Jewellery and Personal Ornaments, South Kensington Museum, 1872 [catalogue printed, London, 1873], no. 135. ['This splendid jewel was brought from India by Lord Canning, but appears to be of Italian cinque-cento work of the time of Benvenuto Cellini, and has been thought to be by his hand.' Lender: 'Marchioness of Clanricarde'. Illustrated Plate V. ]

2. Burlington Fine Arts Club. Catalogue of a Collection of European Enamels from the Earliest Date to the End of the XVII Century, London, 1897, no. 239 and plate LXVII. Described as 'Italian, 16th century'. Reference to the jewel by J. Starkie Gardner, introduction to illustrated catalogue, page xxi. No mention of Cellini. Lender: 'Marquis of Clanricarde'.

3. H. Clifford Smith, Jewellery (London, 1907), colour frontispiece, numbered as plate 1. Described on page 249 as 'probably the finest example of the numerous [Renaissance] pendants in the form of a single figure, particularly of those whose formation is suggested by a large baroque pearl, is the triton or merman jewel in the possession of Lord Clanricarde'.

4. Times, 27 February, 1922: 'perhaps the finest example of Renaissance Jewellery of the kind extant'; 'for boldness of design and skill in execution and for sheer magnificence , none can approach this jewel - a masterpiece of one of the great Italian craftsmen of the Cinquecento'.

On the title page of the auction catalogue in 1931 the jewel is described as 'The Magnificent Italian Renaissance Pendant Known as the The Canning Jewel, and attributed to Benvenuto Cellini'. A paragraph in the text is cautious:

'Questions of individual authorship in the case of great Italian Renaissance Jewellers remain notoriously, at the present time, rather vague in practically every instance. The present magnificent work has been attributed to Benvenuto Cellini, and in design and technique is fully worthy of him, but in the absence of any written contemporary record, the attribution cannot be regarded as quite certain'.

The final paragraph of the auction catalogue text in 1931 is printed upper case:


Following enquiries made by Charles Oman after the auction, the V&A's registered description of the jewel on accession in 1931 states that there is no documentary evidence that the jewel was in the treasury at Delhi, 'but Canning was at Allahabad at the time when the treasure was being forwarded to Calcutta and selected a few trinkets for submission to Queen Victoria. It is not recognisable in the catalogue of the remainder of the treasure which was auctioned by Messrs. Hamilton & Sons at Calcutta (Information obtained from the Superintendent of the Records at the India Office and by inspection of the catalogue)'.

Joan Evans, A History of Jewellery 1100-1870 (2nd edn, London, 1970), illustrates the jewel (plate 81: 'The Canning Jewel, c. 1580') and lists it among other pendants on page 112, with footnote 2: 'The carved ruby on the body and the ruby medallion above the pendant pearl appear to have been added when the jewel was in India'.

Yvonne Hackebroch, Renaissance Jewellery (London, New York, Munich, 1979, page 240, fig. 646, and colour plate XXVI) attributes the jewel to the Netherlands and dates it to 'c. 1580'.

The jewel was illustrated in colour on the cover and as the frontispiece of An Introduction to Courtly Jewellery by Anna Somers Cocks (V&A, 1980). The caption described the jewel as 'Italian or South German c. 1560'.

Shirley Bury (Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue, V&A, 1982, page 154) states that the 'carved Indian rubies' were 'added when the jewel was in India. Various parts were re-backed, probably in India; the blister pearl [pendant] also a replacement'. 'The design probably FLEMISH, the execution ITALIAN: about 1570. Traditionally said to have been given by a Medici prince to a Moghul emperor.' 'Acquired in India by Charles John, 2nd Viscount Canning, Governor-general of India, 1856-62.'

The current assessment is that the jewel was made in the nineteenth century: see Hugh Tait, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum: I. The Jewels, London, 1986, pages 169-170, and Volume III, 'The "Curiosities", London, 1991, page 294. In the latter reference, Tait describes the jewel as 'Origin uncertain and probably modern', noting that Clare Vincent (The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, pp. 196-8) had dated the Linsky mermaid as probably ca. 1860. Tait comments that 'Visually it [the jewel] appears to contain telling evidence, especially on the reverse, where, for example, the roll of hair above the neck is but one very puzzling feature. Furthermore, there is evidence that the goldsmith's work had been specifically made - not altered - to accommodate the large Indian carved oval ruby set in its enamelled scaly tail. The latter has always been regarded as a later addition, inserted while the pendant jewel was in India, and yet the design of the enamelling on the tail appears to incorporate it quite perfectly and the adjacent enamelling itself is also unaffected'.

Cathy Scheer illustrated three 20th century costume jewellery mermen inspired by the Canning Jewel: one by Kenneth Jay Lane, another by Hattie Carnegie, and the third unsigned in a blog entry on Ruby Lane accessed 18 March 2016, but now no longer available online.
Previously thought to be 16th century
Subjects depicted
Accession number

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Record createdMarch 14, 2000
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