Medieval Rings

les Enluminures

A FASCINATION WITH THE “LASCIVIOUS MOOR”

Object of the Month

For many centuries, rings were not simply accessories, worn to match dresses and shoes, but functional objects, often full of symbolism.  If you look closely, this agate cameo is that of an African male bust.  The person whose finger it would have adorned was likely showing their “worldliness.”  Following the Portuguese expeditions of the late 1490’s, new European trading routes were set up along the coasts of Africa and the Indian Ocean resulting in an increased African presence in Europe.  They fulfilled numerous occupations, from writers, soldiers, ambassadors and house slaves.  One of the most famous soldiers was Shakespeare’s Othello, identified as “a lascivious Moor” with “Thick-lips” (I.I).  The names of many have been lost, but their portraits have been retained in paintings, sculpture and jewelry.  In this example of a Renaissance Blackamoor cameo ring, the pronounced lips and hairstyle conform conventionally to the sixteenth-century European perception of “the other.”

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