The Drake Jewel thumbnail 1
The Drake Jewel thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 57

The Drake Jewel

Pendant
1580-1590 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

The cameo is set into the front while the reverse opens to reveal a miniature of Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) with the inscription, which misleadingly now reads 'Ano Dm 1575 Regni 20', implying that the miniature was painted in 1575, the 20th year of Elizabeth's reign. Close examination has shown that the inscription was incorrectly restored in the past and formerly gave a date of 1586. The inside of the lid contains a damaged parchment lining painted with a phoenix.
The jewel was given to Sir Francis Drake (about 1543-1596), the Elizabethan naval hero and explorer. He must have received it before 1591 because in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, there is a portrait of him wearing it painted in that year.
The profile heads of an African man and a European woman make an ingenious use of the brown and white bands of the sardonyx (a variety of quartz). The cameo is one of a number from this period that depict black people. In this case the man is shown wearing a paludamentum, the mantle worn by Roman emperors and generals. Elizabeth may have selected it to show her imperial ambitions. It has been suggested that the male head may represent Saturn, and the female head Astraea, the virgin goddess. The cameo was perhaps intended to proclaim that Elizabeth's reign would be a return to the legendary Age of Gold, when Saturn ruled over a period of peace and prosperity and Astraea distributed blessings.
The phoenix, painted on parchment inside the lid, was a symbol associated with Elizabeth. According to legend, the phoenix died every 500 years and was reborn from its own ashes. It became a Christian symbol of re-birth and renewal, and symbol of chastity.

Object details

Category
Object type
TitleThe Drake Jewel (assigned by owner)
Materials and techniques
Miniature painted in watercolour on vellum; enamelled gold; sardonyx cameo; table-cut rubies and diamonds; pearls.
Brief description
A gold and enamelled oval pendant locket, the front set with an oval sardonyx cameo, the back enclosing a portrait miniature of Queen Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard.
Physical description
A gold and enamelled oval pendant locket set with an oval sardonyx cameo bordered by an enamelled frame set with alternate rubies and diamonds, and with pearls suspended below; the back enclosing a portrait miniature of Queen Elizabeth. The parchment lining of the lid painted with an image of a phoenix.
Dimensions
  • Height: 11.7cm
  • Width: 7cm
  • Depth: 2.5cm
Measured; 02/06/2000 by NH/KB.
Gallery label
  • Family tradition records that Elizabeth I gave this jewel to Sir Francis Drake (about 1540-1595). Although the date on the jewel appears to be 1586, it is possible that the gift was made later, in commemoration of Drake's role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. He is shown wearing the jewel in a portrait painted in 1591. Inside are two miniatures, of Elizabeth I, and of her emblem, the phoenix. The cameo has been skilfully cut to create the two heads using the contrasting coloured layers of the stone.(27/03/2003)
  • Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars label text, 2013 The Drake Jewel About 1580–90; miniature of Elizabeth probably 1586 By tradition, this magnificent jewel was a gift from Elizabeth I to Sir Francis Drake. He wore it for his portrait in 1591, which can be seen nearby. It contains Elizabeth’s portrait and a painting of a phoenix, a symbol of her chastity. The carver of the cameo has used the different layers of the sardonyx stone to create a black male figure in front of a white female head. Western Europe; miniatures painted in London Miniature of Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard Gold, sardonyx cameo, enamel, table-cut rubies and diamonds, pearls; miniatures painted in watercolour on vellum and parchment Miniature inscribed ‘Ano Dni 1575’ (originally ‘1586’) ‘Regni 20’ (originally ‘28’ and ‘29’) Lent by a private collection normally on long-term loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum V&A Loan:Met.Anon.1-1990
Credit line
On loan from a private collection
Object history
The jewel is traditionally believed to have been a present from Queen Elizabeth to the pirate, sea captain and explorer, Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596). The date at which he acquired this fine mounted cameo is uncertain, but he wears it in a portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, dated 1591 (now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich). Inside, the jewel contains a portrait of Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard and a painting on parchment of a phoenix, one of her favourite devices, a symbol of her uniqueness and her chastity, and an assertion of hereditary kingship. In the will of Drake’s brother, Thomas, in 1606, the Drake Jewel was the last of three fair jewels ‘called a compass, a starre, and the late Queen’s Majesty’s picture’ which were to remain in his wife’s hands ‘as long as she shall be unmarryed’.
The early history of the Drake Jewel shows a tension between a desire to allow the widow to continue to enjoy the jewel and a wish to ensure it returned to descend with the male line. Thomas Drake’s son, Sir Frances Drake, 1st Baronet, made no will before his death in 1637 and his widow drove a hard bargain when she wished to re-marry. In return for a payment of £3000 to her daughters, she relinquished any claim to a wide range of objects belonging to her late husband including ‘a great tablett or jewell with Queen Elizabeth’s picture in it which was lately belonging to Francis Drake, knight, deceased’, but she kept for herself ‘‘all jewells, chains of gold, borders, gold rings..other than the aforesaid great jewell’. Sir Francis’s son, Sir Francis Drake, 2nd Baronet, bequeathed the ‘great Jewel that was given with the great gilt covered cupp by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Francis Drake a predecessor’ to his nephew and heir, Francis Drake.
Summary
The cameo is set into the front while the reverse opens to reveal a miniature of Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) with the inscription, which misleadingly now reads 'Ano Dm 1575 Regni 20', implying that the miniature was painted in 1575, the 20th year of Elizabeth's reign. Close examination has shown that the inscription was incorrectly restored in the past and formerly gave a date of 1586. The inside of the lid contains a damaged parchment lining painted with a phoenix.
The jewel was given to Sir Francis Drake (about 1543-1596), the Elizabethan naval hero and explorer. He must have received it before 1591 because in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, there is a portrait of him wearing it painted in that year.
The profile heads of an African man and a European woman make an ingenious use of the brown and white bands of the sardonyx (a variety of quartz). The cameo is one of a number from this period that depict black people. In this case the man is shown wearing a paludamentum, the mantle worn by Roman emperors and generals. Elizabeth may have selected it to show her imperial ambitions. It has been suggested that the male head may represent Saturn, and the female head Astraea, the virgin goddess. The cameo was perhaps intended to proclaim that Elizabeth's reign would be a return to the legendary Age of Gold, when Saturn ruled over a period of peace and prosperity and Astraea distributed blessings.
The phoenix, painted on parchment inside the lid, was a symbol associated with Elizabeth. According to legend, the phoenix died every 500 years and was reborn from its own ashes. It became a Christian symbol of re-birth and renewal, and symbol of chastity.
Bibliographic references
  • Edgcumbe, Richard. 'O Those Jewels! The Pride and Glory of this Kingdom', in: Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars, ed. Olga Dmitrieva and Tessa Murdoch, London: V&A Publishing, 2013, pp. 147-150.
  • Somers Cocks, A., ed., Princely Magnificence: Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Debrett's Peerage Ltd, 1981.
  • Coombes, Katherine. The Portrait Miniature in England. London: V&A Publications, 1998.
  • Dalton, K. 'Art for the Sake of Dynasty. The Black Emperor in the Drake Jewel and Elizabethan Imperial Imagery'. In: P. Erickson and C. Hulse, eds, Early Modern Visual Culture: Representation, Race and Empire in Renaissance England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, pp. 178-214.
Collection
Accession number
LOAN:MET ANON.1-1990

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Record createdMay 19, 1999
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