Filigree Necklace Donated by hotel Guest to FPM

Phoenicia Hotel Guest donates stunning antique filigree necklace to

Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti.

Ms. Vanessa Pearson of London, a guest at the 5-star Phoenicia Hotel at the entrance to Valletta, presented Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti (FPM) with a beautiful and highly artistic silver filigree necklace with pendant cross.

Phoenicia's guest, Ms. Pearson was inspired to donate her necklace after hotel staff discovered her passionate interest in jewellery and recommended that she visit Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti's exhibition 'Vanity, Profanity & Worship: Jewellery from the Maltese Islands' on view at the Casino Maltese and featured on the Phoenicia's website. Pearson recounted how this necklace came down to her through the family and she believes that it originally belonged to her great grandmother, Elizabeth Bellingham, who was an Irish Catholic and was born in 1854, and who is believed to have visited Malta with her husband Captain John Augustin Keeshan of the late 69th Regiment (The South Lincolnshire Regiment) and probably purchased the necklace then. 

The design of the donated necklace is intriguing as it is made of silver filigree fashioned into large links of hollow tubular shape, which is atypical of Maltese designs. What links this particular necklace to Malta, apart from its reported provenance, is that a few others are known in Malta. These include two necklaces which belong to private collections, one of which is currently on display in the jewellery exhibition at the Casino Maltese and another which belongs to Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum. 

Unfortunately, none of the necklaces examined bear hallmarks and this makes it harder to establish an accurate date and origin for these pieces however the working hypothesis is that these necklaces are probably Maltese, perhaps made by the same maker and date to the 19th century. An almost identical necklace is currently on display in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth, Derbyshire, UK and although its provenance is also not known, it has been suggested that the necklace may have been originally purchased by the 6th Duke, when in Malta in 1839/40. Award-winning author and Palazzo Falson Museum Curator Francesca Balzan, who is an expert in antique jewellery says, "The Pearson necklace provides a valuable link in investigating the origins of these types of necklaces and is an artefact of artistic relevance in its own right."

Maltese filigree was particularly sought after in the 19th century. It was highly regarded by visitors to Malta and the Maltese alike who sought to acquire a piece of filigree as it was both fashionable and considered to be a typical craft of the Maltese Islands, appreciated for its beauty and intricacy and rivaling even Genovese filigree to which it is indebted in design and probably in origin too. The English word filigree is shortened from the earlier use of filigreen which derives from Latin "filum" meaning thread or wire and "granum" grain, which connotes a small bead.

The long and intricate process of filigree production begins with melting silver which is later drawn into wires of different gauges required for the production of even the seemingly simplest types of filigree jewellery. This dainty "cord" gives filigree its name, since filigree is a delicate kind of jewellery metalwork, usually of gold or silver, made with twisted threads and arranged in artistic motifs. Its design recalls that of lace, which has also been a popular artisan product across the Maltese Islands.

FPM, is a non-profit making organisation with the aim of spreading awareness of the island's extensive heritage locally and internationally, through museums, exhibitions and publications. It has to date organised eleven major exhibitions including the exhibition 'Vanity, Profanity & Worship: Jewellery from the Maltese Islands', which is currently running until the 26th May. FPM also manages Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum which co-incidentally counts an almost identical silver filigree necklace amongst its collections. The necklace donated by Ms Pearson will be kept at Palazzo Falson in the reserve collection but will be available for on-site inspection and examination upon request, by bona fide researchers. Phoenicia Hotel is a patron of FPM.

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