Medieval Rings

les Enluminures
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MEDIEVAL ARMORIAL SIGNET RING, WITH LOMBARDIC INSCRIPTION

Germany, late 14th century

Gold and crystal

sold
  • MEDIEVAL ARMORIAL SIGNET RING, WITH LOMBARDIC INSCRIPTION

    Germany, late 14th century
    Gold and crystal
    Weight 8.65 gr; circumference 53.1 mm; US size 6½; UK size M½

    The ring is inscribed in Lombardic letters on a black enamel ground + ave maria sine (rose) labe origin concep ora pro nobis (“Hail Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us”) interspersed with five black four-petaled flowers. Like many medieval rings, the present example had a dual purpose, for the inscription on the hoop invoked the protection of the Virgin Mary. These words refer to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which taught that although Mary was conceived like other children, grace poured into the soul of the Virgin Mary from the first moment of her being in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. Combining the function of a seal with a prayer and heraldry, the ring expresses the ideals of the age of faith and knightly chivalry This example is rare, for although foiled crystal intaglio signets continued in use into the seventeenth century, the majority of surviving examples date from no earlier than the mid-sixteenth century.

    Provenance: Dr. Johannes Jantzen (1887–1972), Bremen; Thomas Flannery, Jr. (1926–1980), Winnetka, Illinois, Sotheby’s sale, London, December 2, 1983, no. 306; Benjamin Zucker, New York; on deposit, Walters Art Museum, Batimore, 1985–2013.

    Reference number: 613

  • Signet ring

    Ring used for signing, thus often with the coat-of-arms or the initials of the wearer's family incised in reverse on the bezel. The earliest-known signet rings date from ancient Egypt, thousands of years ago.

    Foil

    Thin metal backing for gems to increase their brilliance, used from Antiquity through the Renaissance with precious stones as well as glass.

  • Gothic

    With the rise of towns and the establishment of a money economy in western Europe, the fabrication of rings grew into an urban trade. In 1180, the Goldsmith's Company was founded in London, and in 1200, Jean de Garlande describes the craftsmen setting jewels into rings on the Grand Pont in Paris. Certain new types of rings evolved and were commercially made in large numbers for all levels of society. In France in 1283, then in London in 1337, 1363, and 1463, and elsewhere, sumptuary laws were passed forbidding townspeople from wearing precious stones, but it is unlikely these regulations were strictly observed.

    Medieval rings are typically set with uncut but polished stones (called cabochons) because the stone itself was considered God's creation, not to be altered artificially by man. For the same reason, there was a taboo about the mixing of colors in the workshops of painters and their assistants. Two types of rings abound in the Gothic era. The first is the stirrup ring, made in the shape of a horse's stirrup and nearly always set with a cabochon sapphire. Many of these have been discovered in the tombs of the bishops for whom they were made. The second is the tart mold ring, adorned with different precious stones in a box or circular setting the underside of which resembles a pie plate. Other types of rings also proliferate: for example, nominative rings with circular inscriptions used for sealing, black letter rings with amatory sayings on the bands, iconographic rings with standing figures of saints that served to protect the wearer, etc. Claw and box settings both occur in Gothic rings, but eventually the claw setting naturally evolves into the most popular late Gothic type of gemstone ring, the cusped ring, in which the collet consists of decorated lobes between the remnants of claws. It is this type of ring that continues into the early Renaissance and occurs in Gerard David's painting.

    An art history of medieval rings has yet to be written (see, however, Hindman et al., 2007), but a few preliminary observations can nevertheless be made. The streamlined form of the stirrup ring, arching upward to the bezel that forms an integral part of it, recalls the aesthetic of the unification of the wall in Gothic cathedrals with the ribs springing seamlessly to the arched vaults. Tart mould rings take inspiration from the architectonic forms of capitals and their bases. The ridged bezel of the iconographic ring adorned with standing saints in niello reiterates in miniature format the closed wings of a painted altarpiece, its figures painted in grisaille. Iconographic rings, as well as other devotional types of rings, find their parallels in the suffrages, or prayers of protection to special saints that accompany Books of Hours.

MEDIEVAL ARMORIAL SIGNET RING, WITH LOMBARDIC INSCRIPTION

Germany, late 14th century
Gold and crystal
Weight 8.65 gr; circumference 53.1 mm; US size 6½; UK size M½

The ring is inscribed in Lombardic letters on a black enamel ground + ave maria sine (rose) labe origin concep ora pro nobis (“Hail Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us”) interspersed with five black four-petaled flowers. Like many medieval rings, the present example had a dual purpose, for the inscription on the hoop invoked the protection of the Virgin Mary. These words refer to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which taught that although Mary was conceived like other children, grace poured into the soul of the Virgin Mary from the first moment of her being in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. Combining the function of a seal with a prayer and heraldry, the ring expresses the ideals of the age of faith and knightly chivalry This example is rare, for although foiled crystal intaglio signets continued in use into the seventeenth century, the majority of surviving examples date from no earlier than the mid-sixteenth century.

Provenance: Dr. Johannes Jantzen (1887–1972), Bremen; Thomas Flannery, Jr. (1926–1980), Winnetka, Illinois, Sotheby’s sale, London, December 2, 1983, no. 306; Benjamin Zucker, New York; on deposit, Walters Art Museum, Batimore, 1985–2013.

Reference number: 613

Signet ring

Ring used for signing, thus often with the coat-of-arms or the initials of the wearer's family incised in reverse on the bezel. The earliest-known signet rings date from ancient Egypt, thousands of years ago.

Foil

Thin metal backing for gems to increase their brilliance, used from Antiquity through the Renaissance with precious stones as well as glass.

Gothic

With the rise of towns and the establishment of a money economy in western Europe, the fabrication of rings grew into an urban trade. In 1180, the Goldsmith's Company was founded in London, and in 1200, Jean de Garlande describes the craftsmen setting jewels into rings on the Grand Pont in Paris. Certain new types of rings evolved and were commercially made in large numbers for all levels of society. In France in 1283, then in London in 1337, 1363, and 1463, and elsewhere, sumptuary laws were passed forbidding townspeople from wearing precious stones, but it is unlikely these regulations were strictly observed.

Medieval rings are typically set with uncut but polished stones (called cabochons) because the stone itself was considered God's creation, not to be altered artificially by man. For the same reason, there was a taboo about the mixing of colors in the workshops of painters and their assistants. Two types of rings abound in the Gothic era. The first is the stirrup ring, made in the shape of a horse's stirrup and nearly always set with a cabochon sapphire. Many of these have been discovered in the tombs of the bishops for whom they were made. The second is the tart mold ring, adorned with different precious stones in a box or circular setting the underside of which resembles a pie plate. Other types of rings also proliferate: for example, nominative rings with circular inscriptions used for sealing, black letter rings with amatory sayings on the bands, iconographic rings with standing figures of saints that served to protect the wearer, etc. Claw and box settings both occur in Gothic rings, but eventually the claw setting naturally evolves into the most popular late Gothic type of gemstone ring, the cusped ring, in which the collet consists of decorated lobes between the remnants of claws. It is this type of ring that continues into the early Renaissance and occurs in Gerard David's painting.

An art history of medieval rings has yet to be written (see, however, Hindman et al., 2007), but a few preliminary observations can nevertheless be made. The streamlined form of the stirrup ring, arching upward to the bezel that forms an integral part of it, recalls the aesthetic of the unification of the wall in Gothic cathedrals with the ribs springing seamlessly to the arched vaults. Tart mould rings take inspiration from the architectonic forms of capitals and their bases. The ridged bezel of the iconographic ring adorned with standing saints in niello reiterates in miniature format the closed wings of a painted altarpiece, its figures painted in grisaille. Iconographic rings, as well as other devotional types of rings, find their parallels in the suffrages, or prayers of protection to special saints that accompany Books of Hours.

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