Symbolism Sunday, The Pelican

January 16, 2011

Here’s one I doubt you ever thought you’d be reading about on this particular website! The pelican isn’t a symbol that instantly denotes love or mortality, or is it one that makes an appearance often in jewellery art. However, there it is and today is Symbolism Sunday, so let’s get to it.

Pelican and Elephant 18th Century Sepia Brooch

First and foremost, the pelican is linked with the passion of Jesus, the Eucharist and self-sacrifice. Instantly, with those as a guide, we have a context for the pelican in sentimental jewels as all these relate to the theme of death and resurrection, but from where does this stem? The concept itself is a medieval one, with the idea that the pelican was attentive to her young and would offer her own blood during times of famine. Hence, the concept comes back around to to body of Christ (Corpus Christi) as the divine pelican.

In jewellery? The sentimental Neoclassical depictions are where you will find the pelican, although sparingly. In the example above, note the female figure holding the pelican, denoting her motherhood and the offering of herself to her young, hence the symbolism is quite fitting, but not an overt symbol that carried through to later jewellery in a large fashion. You can find examples of the pelican on its own in brooches and charms during the latter 19th century in base metals or the occasional gold and silver piece.

I do like the unusual ones the best, so who knows what next week will bring? Enjoy your Sunday!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp


The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

22 Responses to “Symbolism Sunday, The Pelican”

  1. Russell Says:

    Wow, this one is new to me. Very nice! What do you make of the elephant?

  2. Ah, Russell – I didn’t want to spoil the surprise, but get ready for on elephant-sized article next week!

  3. […] say that an elephant never forgets and in this case, if you remember last week’s Pelican symbol, you know that I like the strange motifs in sentimental art. We have a lot to thank the elephant […]

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