23. A Salamander Pendant

By Abigail Gomulkiewicz

This pendant is a salamander set in gold with blue enamel. The salamander’s body is formed from a baroque pearl and it holds an emerald in its mouth. Although the provenance is unknown, the salamander imagery was something quite often gifted by men at court to Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). In fact, the salamander actually appears in more offerings than the oft-studied phoenix or pelican.[1] Mr. Thomas Hennage, for example, gave a gold jewel tablet with a salamander in opal on it while Charles Smythe presented a small salamander jewel with rubies, diamonds, and pearls. Mr. Carmardenn also offered a silver and gilt bodkin with a salamander pendant in mother of pearl.[2]

The salamander was a powerful early modern image. Its connection to regeneration and its purported ability to survive fire made rulers such as Francis I choose it as their emblem.[3] It shared many similarities with the phoenix, another image associated with Elizabeth. However, its more earthy manifestation perhaps made it preferable for certain men. It may also have seemed even more appropriate to the Elizabethan context because the Queen often reminded her subjects how she survived, divinely protected, before her reign.[4] This preservation provided the foundation for her legitimacy. Elizabeth maximised her place as God’s chosen and safeguarded instrument to argue that it was her connection with God alone that protected England. This elevated her individual power and demonstrated why she should control religious and political policies. In a similar way, the salamander survived the flames and emerged unharmed and stronger than before.


[1] This symbol is not analysed in work by Roy Strong, Kevin Sharpe, Janet Arnold or Frances Yates.

[2] Gift Rolls 1577, 171; 1579, 201; 1588, 169; See Jane A. Lawson, ed., The Elizabethan New Year’s gift exchanges, 1559-1603 (Oxford, 2013), pp. 214, 257, 377.

[3] Pamela Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago 2004), p. 120.

[4] “Queen Elizabeth’s First Speech before Parliament, February 10. 1559,” in Elizabeth I: Collected Works, Marcus, Leah S., Janel Mueller and Mary Beth Rose, eds. (Chicago, 2000), p. 57; “Queen Elizabeth’s Speech at the Close of the Parliamentary Session, March 15, 1576,” in Elizabeth I, p. 167; Richard Grafton, Graftons Abridgment of the Chronicles of Englande (London, 1570), f. 179r.

Image: Salamander Pendant, Europe (west, made), late 16th century (made), Enamelled gold, set with pearls and an emerald, Museum number: M.537-1910, Gallery location: Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery, case 8. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


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