Creative Links Online: Talismanic Jewellery and Tableware - ‘Friends to grace and mercy and enemies to vice’

21 Apr 2021 · 6:00PM - 7:00PM
Pay what you can (£5 or £10)
Online via Zoom (GMT)
Event type
Book now

A wide range of natural materials – plant, animal and geological – have been used since Stone Age times to protect the owner against occult forces and disease.

Distinctive properties, rarity, exotic origins, ancient legends, folklore and (to modern scientific thinking) unusual background philosophies have all contributed to the concept of magical properties and virtues inherent in precious and semi-precious stones.

In this talk Chris Duffin will examine several case histories as a means of introducing and considering something of the range of ‘magical’, talismanic materials used both apotropaically and medicinally, and the enormous diversity of their application. Why were they considered, in the words of Ivan the Terrible (circa 1584) ‘Friends to grace and mercy and enemies to vice’?

For medieval and early modern goldsmiths and their clients, gemstones could be understood through a mixture of magic and science. Goldsmiths’ Company Librarian Eleni Bide will follow Chris’ case histories with an exploration of how these types of knowledge were intertwined through two beautiful lapidary books in the Goldsmiths’ Company’s archive.

Who are the speakers?

Chris Duffin was formerly Senior Master, Director of Sixth Form, Head of Biology and Head of Critical Thinking at Streatham and Clapham High School in south London. Following a Geology degree, he obtained a Ph.D. in Vertebrate Palaeontology at University College London and, more recently, a second doctorate, this time in the history of medicine from Kingston University. He has published extensively including as co-author of the Handbook of Paleoichthyology Volume 3D. Chondrichthyes. Paleozoic Elasmobranchii : Teeth (2010) and a number of edited volumes, including A History of geology and Medicine (2013), Geology and Medicine: Historical Connections (2017), Amber in the History of Medicine (2017), Collection in the Space of Culture (2019) and The Medical Legacy of Mafra (2020). Chris received the Palaeontological Association’s Mary Anning Award for outstanding contributions to palaeontology in 2011, and the Marsh Award for Palaeontology in 2018.

Eleni Bide is the Goldsmiths’ Company’s Librarian, and has worked with this unique collection of books and archives for twelve years. She has a background in design history, specialising in metalwork and jewellery.


Lead image: The Danny Jewel, an English Elizabethan pendent jewel of narwhal horn and enamelled gold, possibly used to counteract poison. Front and back views. V&A M.97-1917 © The Victoria & Albert Museum, London.