Medieval England Jewelry Part 3: The New College Jewels

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THE NEW COLLEGE JEWELS are still preserved in the College. Among the jeweled fragments are hinged bands of silver gilt, formed of plates of basse-taille enamel representing animals and grotesques, which alternate with settings of dark blue pastes and white crystals surrounded by radiating pearls.

These bands probably went round the lower part of the mitre, and also perhaps ran up the middle of it, before and behind. The crests of the mitre were edged with strips of exquisitely chased crocheting in gold. The other fragments include two rosettes of beautifully executed Gothic foliation set with white crystals, together with two qua-trefoils in silver gilt and a cruciform gold ornament set with turquoises.

The chief treasure of the New College collection is an exquisite gold jewel, a monogram of the Blessed Virgin, the patron saint of the ” College of St. Mary of Winston in Oxford.” It is a crowned Lombardic M and might be the rich capital of some medieval manuscript, with its gorgeous coloring faithfully translated into gold, enamel, pearls, and precious stones.

In the open parts of the letter are figures of the Virgin and the Angel of the Annunciation in full relief, the angel’s wings being covered with enamel of translucent green. The space above the head of each figure is occupied with delicate architectural work of open cuspings. In the center of the jewel is a large ruby in the form of a vase, from which spring three lilies with white enameled blossoms. On each side of the vase are three small emeralds.

Remarkable taste is shown in the arrangement of the precious stones: fine emeralds and rubies, en cabochon, mounted alternately in raised settings round the jewel. Two stones, a ruby on the left and an emerald on the right, are missing.

The rest of the mountings are Oriental pearls somewhat discolored by age. It is generally considered that the jewel adorned and occupied a central place on the mitre, and its dimension (2 by 2 inches) render its employment in that position probable. As, however, there are no indications of such an ornament on contemporary representations of mitres, and above all on the mitre figured on the founder’s own tomb at Winchester, there remains the possibility of the jewel having been employed as a brooch or nouche on some other part of the vestment.

This remarkable jewel stands quite alone in point of excellence. It goes far to justify the contention that English jewelers at this period, as well as in Saxon times, equaled, if they did not outstrip, the craftsmen of other nations in the successful cultivation of the goldsmith’s art.

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