In Act 5 of his Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s Gratiano mocked the posy ring as a cheap trinket adorned with “cutler’s poetry.” The two present examples, however, demonstrate that seventeenth-century poets and jewelers often treated the limited space and simple contours of the posy ring as a serious artistic challenge. The short poems on the interiors of both rings economically gesture to the erudition of their composers. In the first, the phrase, “Dopo Dio, Voi,” translates a common English posy into Italian, a language popular among English nobles of the Renaissance by virtue of their humanist educations. The cryptic posy on the second ring, “thinke it not strange, though ever exchaing,” draws language from 1 Peter 4:4 and 4:12, fashioning a veiled statement about married life that likewise draws attention to the poet’s learning. Transforming the otherwise unassuming hoops of gold into tours-de-force of incised and enameled decoration, the goldsmiths matched the wordsmiths in skill and subtlety.
This month, Les Enluminures in association with Brepols Publishers presents a new book on rings. Rings are at once the most intimate forms of jewelry and personal forms of art. This book focuses on approximately fifty rings from a distinguished private collection and currently on display in the Cloisters, tracing the ways that rings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance came to be meaningful. From the mine to the modern collection and through the forge, the goldsmith’s shop, and the hands of successive generations of owners, these rings underwent journeys that lent them multifaceted and often multilayered resonances. Through these journeys, the rings of this collection came to be important historical documents as well as objects of high artistic achievement. An introduction by Diana Scarisbrick investigates the lives of five prominent ring enthusiasts and her chronological sequence for the rings in this book provides further contextual information about the cultures that made and used them. A catalog of the rings accompanies the text.
Following rings from the mine to the modern private collection, this catalogue of approximately fifty rings explores the roles rings played within social relations and considers how these roles transform rings into multifaceted, richly symbolic objects.