A Bestiary of Jewels

While we were in Oxford last weekend I visited the Ashmolean Museum mainly to have a look round the permanent exhibits. Unfortunately we were a month too early to see a major exhibition of works by Cezanne. I’d seen that the museum was hosting an exhibition ‘A Bestiary of Jewels’ and although I didn’t think it would be of particular interest I decided to have a look. I’m glad that I did

The exhibition featured the work of artist goldsmith, Kevin Coates, a London-based artist – “a jeweller, and sculptor in diverse materials” – who is also a musician.

According to the font of all knowledge (i.e. Wikipedia)

A bestiary, or Bestiarum vocabulum is a compendium of beasts. Originating in the Ancient world, bestiaries were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals, birds and even rocks. The natural history and illustration of each beast was usually accompanied by a moral lesson.

For his bestiary the artist has created creatures from  gold, precious stones, shell, and other materials, all paired with a significant historic figure – writers’ artists, philosophers, scientists and others. Each of these jewels is mounted on a painted Bestiary ‘page’.  The only word to describe the pieces is exquisite. They are delicately sculpted in miniature with amazing detail from precious materials. The work of a very skilled craftsman with real imagination.

The works included  “A Parrot for Flaubert”;

Kevin Coates 'A Parrot for Flaubert' 2012 neckpiece in a wall mount in gold, black mother-of-pearl, ancient iridescent glass fragment, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, carnelian, citrine, amethyst and silver. © Kevin Coates. Image: Clarissa Bruce

“A Starling for Mozart”; A Rhinoceros for Kaendler; and “A Dodo for Mr. Dodgson” (Oxford’s own Lewis Carroll) and “A Horse for Leonardo”

My favourite piece was this one

The exhibition also featured a selection of “Birthday jewels” which the artist has made over the years for his wife, Nel Romano. Given the materials he uses, he clearly isn’t exactly a poverty stricken artist.

The exhibition finishes at the Ashmolean at the end of March and will then tour around the UK the next stop being in Ruthin Craft Centre in North Wales.


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