Méduse pendant

Belgian Art Nouveau

Philippe Wolfers (1858-1929), together with Victor Horta, Henry van de Velde and Paul Hankar, was one of the leading figures of Belgian Art Nouveau who enjoyed an international reputation. Created in 1898, the Méduse pendant is internationally recognised as an icon of (Belgian) Art Nouveau jewellery.

The work’s importance

The Méduse pendant is one of Wolfers’s ‘one-off examples’, unique artistic creations of exceptional quality which, after completion, were meticulously listed in a catalogue. Not only is the Méduse considered as the most important piece of jewellery created by Philippe Wolfers, it is also his most remarkable piece. It is among the centrepieces of Symbolist jewellery designed by Wolfers and is internationally renowned as an icon of (Belgian) Art Nouveau.

A miniature ivory sculpture

The use of ivory to make miniature sculptures is characteristic of Wolfers jewellery. The 1898 Méduse pendant was the first piece of jewellery in which the artist integrated ivory, using it to create the sculpted face of the Medusa.

A powerful expressiveness

The combination of ivory and opal illustrates magnificently the powerful expressiveness that Wolfers was able to create from the materials he used. Here, whilst the ivory confers a macabre expression on the face of the evil monster, the opal eyes turn a petrifying gaze towards the onlooker. Moreover, the opal used for the left eye has an inclusion in it that resembles a fissure, further reinforcing the Medusa’s terrifying expression. Philippe Wolfers took immense care when choosing and combining materials for his jewellery, in function of the effect he wished to create. It is thanks to his choice and carefully-studied combination of materials that the Méduse pendant is considered to be a model in the art of jewellery design, going beyond simple decoration to become a miniature sculpture.

Accessible to everyone

This remarkable pendant, in gold, enamel, ivory, opal and diamonds, had remained in private hands for many years. However, desirous that it should remain in Belgium, its owner firstly offered to sell it to the King Baudouin Foundation. Thanks to the Heritage Fund, the Foundation has been able to acquire the Méduse and entrust it to the Museum of Art and History in Brussels. The pendant will be exhibited in the (recreated) Wolfers shop that is part of the museum’s permanent exhibition, where it will be accessible to everyone. Werner Adriaenssens, Curator of the 20th Century Decorative Arts Department, commented: “The acquisition of this piece represents an indispensable addition to the unique collection of Philippe Wolfers jewellery at the museum. It is the artist’s absolute masterpiece among the group of Symbolist-inspired pieces of jewellery he created.”

Material / technique: 
Gold, enamel, ivory, opal and diamonds
10X5,5 cm (pendant without chain)
Type of acquisition: 
Acquired by the Heritage Fund
Year of acquisition: 
Depository institution: 
Art & History Museum, Brussels