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Restoration of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon

The Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon. 1533. Gold, silver, precious and semiprecious stones, pearls, polychrome enamel. 42 × 24 × 26.2 cm

This casket made by Nuremberg craftsmen is one of the most striking creations of the Renaissance era. A variety of jeweller’s techniques was used to decorate it. The surface is almost completely finished with gilded silver plaques with chased leaf ornamentation and appliqué pieces in the shape of crosses, rings, pendants and earrings made of gold and pearls. Each of these pieces is unique and decorated with precious and semiprecious stones that vary in their artistic merits and the way they were finished. The craftsman combined stones that had been ground and polished, drilled and faceted: cabochons, rose-cut, table-cut and pyramid-cut.

The maker adorned the casket with cameos and items of jewellery that had gone out of fashion. The handle, decorated with sapphire, spinel and pearl pendants, rests on little figures of cupids. The feet were made in the shape of gryphons, two of which hold shields carrying the arms of the Elector of Brandenburg and the King of Poland. The coats of arms, the surviving marks of the city of Nuremberg and the engraved date – 1533 make it possible to number the casket among the finest works produced by south German jewellers in the 16th century. 

 

The casket was part of the dowry of Hedwig (Jadwiga), the daughter of King Sigismund I of Poland, a member of the Jagiellon dynasty, who in 1535 married Joachim II, Elector of Brandenburg. It seems probable that the casket arrived in Russia after the marriage in 1711 of Peter the Great’s son Alexei to Sophie Charlotte of Wolfenbüttel as part of the dowry of that Princess, who was a direct descendant of Hedwig Jagiellon.

 

Before the restoration the casket was heavily soiled, the polychrome enamel was chipped and cracked with some losses, while the metal decoration also had gaps and losses. The gilded elements and mounts were deformed, causing the fastening of the stones to become loose. There were noticeable traces of previous restorations (glue, wax and plasticine). The inset wooden liner had breaks in the velvet and also abrasions, losses, soiling, stains and traces of glue on the fabric.

 

To make the time-blackened casket dazzlingly beautiful again, a range of restoration measures were carried out. Soiling was removed from the surface of the casket; the gilding was partially restored; the settings of the precious stones were reinforced. A millisecond laser was used to mend gaps and cracks in the carcass and the metal decoration. The wooden lining was cleaned of soiling and impregnated with an alcoholic solution of shellac with wax that strengthens the structure of the wood and protects the surface from cracking and chipping. The enamels were impregnated with a polymer; the deformation was corrected, and the traces of multiple restorations were removed.

  • The Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon after restoration
  • The Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon before restoration
  • The inner liner of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon before restoration
  • The inner liner of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon after restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon during restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon during restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon during restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon during restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon during restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon after restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon after restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon after restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon after restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon after restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon after restoration
  • Close-up view of the Casket of Hedwig Jagiellon after restoration
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This unique exhibit once again adorns the display of the Hermitage’s Treasure Gallery.

The restoration was carried out by the Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Precious Metals belonging to the Hermitage’s Department of Restoration and Conservation under the direction of its head, Igor Karlovich Malkiel. The keeper of this exhibit is Olga Grigoryevna Kostiuk, head of the Hermitage’s Department of Western European Applied Art.

This project was realized with the support of the House of Cartier.