On the evening of June 6th, Dr. Stefanie Walker gave us a wonderful talk about the sumptuous jewels of Renaissance Bavaria. She is an accomplished woman: a certified goldsmith (she did her apprenticeship in Germany), a distinguished curator (heading a superb exhibit of Castellani and Giuliano in New York City some years back, accompanied by an exceptional catalog), and she holds a Ph.D. in art history from New York University.
She now works here in DC for the National Endowment for the Humanities and teaches history of jewelry in the Smithsonian/Corcoran Masters
Certification in the Decorative Arts.
Her talk focused on the research she has done over a period of some four years on the “Kleinodiensbuch” or Jewel Book, an illuminated manuscript from mid-16th century Bavaria. Each page has an almost photographically accurate illumination of a jewel from the collection of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria and his wife, the Austrian Habsburg Arch Duchess Anna. These were done between 1552 and 1555 by Hans Mielich, a well-known portrait painter of the day. (He had also painted portraits of the Duke and Duchess, which Stefanie showed us in her slides.)
Each jewel is shown life-size, the front appearing on the recto and the back on the verso of each page. Each is surrounded by an elaborate ornamental frame. Mielich’s pictures are so detailed that if you wanted to, you could actually reconstruct those frames.
Only two of the many jewels shown in the book can be identified as having survived: a sapphire ring and a sapphire pendant. The Munich State Library has a great collection of Renaissance jewels, but none of them are from the jewel book.
So the book is a beautiful mystery. We still don’t know why it was commissioned. We can’t be sure who made the jewels nor where they were made. (The archives tell us nothing, so it’s impossible to make accurate attributions.) But the book’s beauty is its own justification. You can see some of its pages online at:
The Jewel Book
Summary by Brenda Forman
Pictures by Melanie Marts