Curator’s Eye: Wendy Ramshaw’s Requiem Necklace

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The necklace can be seen as an object of public, and private, grief and devotion

WENDY RAMSHAW’S Requiem Necklace for Guernica was one of the last ten pieces she made as part of her landmark Picasso’s Ladies series—sixty-six individual pieces of jewelry, each inspired by, or a reflection on, one of Picasso’s depictions of women. The necklace was a unique commission for the National Museums Scotland and was inspired by what is perhaps Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica, his 1937 response to the death and destruction wrought by the German bombing of the Basque town that year.

Ramshaw herself describes Requiem Necklace as a “memorial piece, inspired by devotional altars in churches” as well as by “reliquaries found in churches or in the home.” If removed from its stand and worn, the necklace rests on the chest and heart of the wearer, offering an intimate experience. As Ramshaw explains, it is a “universal requiem not only for the women of Guernica, but for all women who suffer the devastation of war.” The necklace can, therefore, be seen as an object of public, and private, grief and devotion—the red of the garnets signifying the drops of blood that were shed in Guernica, the blood that is so central to the Mass and the violence that is so frequently meted out on women’s bodies. In this piece Ramshaw has taken the ugliness and disorder of war and created something that is somehow ordered and beautiful.

Wendy Ramshaw, Requiem Necklace for Guernica, 18-karat gold, black steel, oxidized silver and garnets, beads and a Crucifix from an antique rosary, 1997–1998. © National Museums Scotland

Requiem Necklace for Guernica is a groundbreaking work by the most important and influential jeweler working today in Great Britain. The unique blurring of boundaries between jewelry and art, public and private, order and chaos, suffering and devotion, personal and political, brutality and beauty, make it, for me, one of the most significant works in the Art and Design Collections of the National Museums Scotland.

Sally-Anne Huxtable
Principal Curator of Modern and Contemporary Design
National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh