Medieval Rings

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GREEK SNAKE RING WITH GARNET HEART

Hellenistic Greece, 2nd–1st century BC

Gold and garnet

sold
  • GREEK SNAKE RING WITH GARNET HEART

    Hellenistic Greece, 2nd–1st century BC
    Gold and garnet
    Weight 3.3 gr; circumference 51.2 mm; US size 5¾; UK size L

    Snake jewelry frequently figures in recent artists’ concepts of ancient Egyptian female ornament, but snake jewelry was not limited to Egypt, nor was it an old Egyptian tradition. Jewelry with a variety of animal heads, including snakes, is found from the eighth century BC onwards in western Asia, and thence spread to Greece in about the fifth century BC. Bright red garnets were the most popular gems in Hellenistic jewelry, with India being a major source. Garnet is a relatively hard gemstone and, like most ancient examples, the one in the present ring has the glassy or “vitreous” polish typical of garnet while retaining some of the coarser abrasive marks and finer scratches produced in the preliminary stages of gem polishing. The hoop and bezel-backing of this ring take the form of the coiled body of a snake and attached is a heart-shaped gold setting bordered in beaded wire containing a heart-shaped bright red garnet.

    Provenance: Benjamin Zucker, New York; on deposit Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 1985-2013.

    Reference number: 610

  • Garnet

    Any of a group of semi-precious silicate stones that range in color from red to green (garnets occur in all colors but blue). The pyrope is the familiar deep red garnet. Garnets were plentiful in Europe, and vary significantly in quality; they were mined in Bohemia and elsewhere in the medieval era.

    Birthstone

    January-Garnet: Safe travel and a speedy homecoming
    February-Amethyst: Power to overcome difficulties
    March-Jasper: Courage
    April-Diamond: Everlasting love
    May-Emerald: Love and fidelity
    June- Pearl: Purity, Celebrate a birth
    July- Ruby: Prosperity (if worn on the left hand); Everlasting love (if worn on the right)
    August-Peridot and Sardonyx: Strength and growth; Happiness in a relationship
    September-Sapphire: Sincerity and faithfulness
    October-Opal and Tourmaline: Confidence and hope
    November-Citrine and Yellow Topaz: Strength and friendship
    December-Turquoise: Protects against evil and ill health

  • Ancient

    The term “ancient” can include everything from Egypt to Etruscan and Phoenician to Greece, literally thousands of years of history. Here we are concerned primarily with Hellenistic and Imperial Rome. The Hellenistic age extends from c. 325 B.C. until the inauguration of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C.; and Imperial Rome thereafter until the reign of Constantine from c. 306-327 and the Sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths led by Alaric.

    Both gold (from extensive new mining operations) and precious stones (from new trade routes) were plentiful during the Hellenist Age, and jewelry was highly prized as conveying social status. Multicolored gemstones were in frequent use, chalcedonies, cornelians, and above all garnets (from India). Seed pearls, emeralds, and amethysts also are found by the first and second centuries B.C. While Hellenistic jewelry much imitated Greek prototypes, some forms originate during this era, and they include the Heracles knot that remained popular through Roman times and the hinged ring.

    At first, Roman rings of the Imperial period were relatively simple, but by the first century the taste for luxury and displays of wealth was much noted by Roman writers. Martial and other critics of Roman society parodied the newly rich (see Spier 2012, p. 12). One of his epigrams ridicules the dandy Charinus, who wears six rings on each finger and never takes them off because he does not have a gem case (implying that he does not own them they are rented). In Petronius’s Satyricon, Fortunata the wife of a former slave is mocked for wearing at least “six and half pounds on her” during a banquet. These accounts speak to the wide availability of jewelry during this era. Among the new forms, the new pierced openwork in gold (opus interrasile) is worth noting. By the later Roman Empire, especially the third through fifth centuries, Roman jewelry becomes more sophisticated: among the forms that date from this time are double- and triple- bezel rings, as well as the pyramid setting.

    A certain amount of information survives concerning the making of jewelry in antiquity. Jewelry is almost always described by weight and if there are stones the weight without the stones is given. These weights are closely related to those of coinage, so customers may have supplied coins to itinerant or shop-based craftsmen. There were certainly guilds in Roman times. We also suspect that children worked as jewelers and engravers; there is a tombstone of a 19 year old gem engraver known. Archeological finds reveal that shops surrounding the marketplace belonged to retail traders dealing with the local market; there are transfer and rental agreements for jewelry shows (see Ogden 1982, p. 177). The shop of one jeweler was only 5 feet by 4 feet in size, much like artisan’s workshops throughout the medieval era. Certainly itinerant goldsmiths must also have existed.

GREEK SNAKE RING WITH GARNET HEART

Hellenistic Greece, 2nd–1st century BC
Gold and garnet
Weight 3.3 gr; circumference 51.2 mm; US size 5¾; UK size L

Snake jewelry frequently figures in recent artists’ concepts of ancient Egyptian female ornament, but snake jewelry was not limited to Egypt, nor was it an old Egyptian tradition. Jewelry with a variety of animal heads, including snakes, is found from the eighth century BC onwards in western Asia, and thence spread to Greece in about the fifth century BC. Bright red garnets were the most popular gems in Hellenistic jewelry, with India being a major source. Garnet is a relatively hard gemstone and, like most ancient examples, the one in the present ring has the glassy or “vitreous” polish typical of garnet while retaining some of the coarser abrasive marks and finer scratches produced in the preliminary stages of gem polishing. The hoop and bezel-backing of this ring take the form of the coiled body of a snake and attached is a heart-shaped gold setting bordered in beaded wire containing a heart-shaped bright red garnet.

Provenance: Benjamin Zucker, New York; on deposit Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 1985-2013.

Reference number: 610

Garnet

Any of a group of semi-precious silicate stones that range in color from red to green (garnets occur in all colors but blue). The pyrope is the familiar deep red garnet. Garnets were plentiful in Europe, and vary significantly in quality; they were mined in Bohemia and elsewhere in the medieval era.

Birthstone

January-Garnet: Safe travel and a speedy homecoming
February-Amethyst: Power to overcome difficulties
March-Jasper: Courage
April-Diamond: Everlasting love
May-Emerald: Love and fidelity
June- Pearl: Purity, Celebrate a birth
July- Ruby: Prosperity (if worn on the left hand); Everlasting love (if worn on the right)
August-Peridot and Sardonyx: Strength and growth; Happiness in a relationship
September-Sapphire: Sincerity and faithfulness
October-Opal and Tourmaline: Confidence and hope
November-Citrine and Yellow Topaz: Strength and friendship
December-Turquoise: Protects against evil and ill health

Ancient

The term “ancient” can include everything from Egypt to Etruscan and Phoenician to Greece, literally thousands of years of history. Here we are concerned primarily with Hellenistic and Imperial Rome. The Hellenistic age extends from c. 325 B.C. until the inauguration of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C.; and Imperial Rome thereafter until the reign of Constantine from c. 306-327 and the Sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths led by Alaric.

Both gold (from extensive new mining operations) and precious stones (from new trade routes) were plentiful during the Hellenist Age, and jewelry was highly prized as conveying social status. Multicolored gemstones were in frequent use, chalcedonies, cornelians, and above all garnets (from India). Seed pearls, emeralds, and amethysts also are found by the first and second centuries B.C. While Hellenistic jewelry much imitated Greek prototypes, some forms originate during this era, and they include the Heracles knot that remained popular through Roman times and the hinged ring.

At first, Roman rings of the Imperial period were relatively simple, but by the first century the taste for luxury and displays of wealth was much noted by Roman writers. Martial and other critics of Roman society parodied the newly rich (see Spier 2012, p. 12). One of his epigrams ridicules the dandy Charinus, who wears six rings on each finger and never takes them off because he does not have a gem case (implying that he does not own them they are rented). In Petronius’s Satyricon, Fortunata the wife of a former slave is mocked for wearing at least “six and half pounds on her” during a banquet. These accounts speak to the wide availability of jewelry during this era. Among the new forms, the new pierced openwork in gold (opus interrasile) is worth noting. By the later Roman Empire, especially the third through fifth centuries, Roman jewelry becomes more sophisticated: among the forms that date from this time are double- and triple- bezel rings, as well as the pyramid setting.

A certain amount of information survives concerning the making of jewelry in antiquity. Jewelry is almost always described by weight and if there are stones the weight without the stones is given. These weights are closely related to those of coinage, so customers may have supplied coins to itinerant or shop-based craftsmen. There were certainly guilds in Roman times. We also suspect that children worked as jewelers and engravers; there is a tombstone of a 19 year old gem engraver known. Archeological finds reveal that shops surrounding the marketplace belonged to retail traders dealing with the local market; there are transfer and rental agreements for jewelry shows (see Ogden 1982, p. 177). The shop of one jeweler was only 5 feet by 4 feet in size, much like artisan’s workshops throughout the medieval era. Certainly itinerant goldsmiths must also have existed.

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