Medieval Rings

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MEROVINGIAN CLOISONNÉ ARCHITECTURAL RING

France, c. 500

Gold and garnet

sold
  • MEROVINGIAN CLOISONNÉ ARCHITECTURAL RING

    France, c. 500
    Gold and garnet
    Weight 10.7 gr; circumference 58.3 mm; US size 8½, UK size Q½

    From the end of the fifth century to the first decades of the seventh century, jeweled objects decorated with cloisonné coverings constitute some of the most successful and remarkable productions in the West. Architectural rings like this one are contemporary with small round fibulae. Jeweled objects with cloisonné garnets are encountered from the third century in Crimea and are relatively frequent in eastern and western Europe. They are represented from the fifth and sixth centuries in royal tombs (King Childeric, Queen Aregonde) and in exceptional contexts, such as Sutton Hoo, and as recently seen in Staffordshire in the West Midlands, where in 2009 the largest and most valuable Anglo-Saxon hoard was discovered. This complex architectural ring features a large conical bezel crowned with circular raised bezel with granulated base (this element is structurally supported underneath by a cylindrical shaft), and is set with a garnet cabochon.

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

    Reference number: 627

  • 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

  • Bezel

    The upper, protruding part of a finger ring (excluding the hoop and the shoulders) often set with a gemstone.

    Granulation

    Decoration consisting of minute spherical grains of metal soldered to a background usually in gold; the ancient method which left no solder visible between the grains and the surface of the gold was rediscovered only in the twentieth century.

    Cloisonné

    Method of applying enamel to metal in which the design is first outlined on the metal surface using a metal wire; the space between the wires is filled with enamel and then fired to a glassy sheen.

  • Early Christian & Byzantine

    Information about rings in late Antiquity comes from Roman authors, such as Pliny, Martial, and Clement of Alexandria. In his Natural History Pliny states: “... many people do not allow any gems in a signet-ring, and seal with the gold itself; this was a fashion invented when Claudius Caesar was Emperor.” The Roman poet Martial remarked in the first century A.D. he had seen a middle-class citizen wearing no less than six rings on each finger; although under Septimus Severus (died 211 A.D.) a decree was issued allowing each soldier to wear a single gold ring. The Church Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, discouraged wearing any jewelry at all. However, they did permit Christians to wear one ring, either the seal of their family or the wedding ring; and rings bearing Christian symbols such as fish, birds, and inscriptions of religious character were deemed acceptable.

    The types of rings from this period include examples with nominative inscriptions or plain gold monograms for sealing, marriage and betrothal rings, devotional and religious rings, and decorative rings. Some marriage and fidelity rings are expressly related to the formal institution of marriage and its vows. The symbolic linking of the couple that is expressed in the dextrarum junctio, or the joining of hands, persisted from ceremonies from Roman times. One type of marriage ring thus displays two joined hands. Portraits of the bride and groom, sometimes with crowns over their heads (actually used in ceremonies) or a cross between them, also exist in rings. The man is typically portrayed on the left, in the position of greater importance. Such rings suggest that men and women shared an emotional bond and a practical partnership. Other strictly Byzantine examples depict the bride and groom flanking Christ to indicate that he officiates over the union of bride and groom, sealed by his cross. Typical inscriptions include OMONOIA (Concord) and XAPIC (Grace). In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville wrote: “The ring is given by the espouser to the espoused either as a sign of mutual fidelity ... therefore the ring is placed on the fourth finger because a certain vein, it is said, flows thence to the heart.”

    Other types of rings of the period include decorative rings with attractive gemstones, cameos, and intaglios, sometimes set in beautifully wrought bands made with pierced, twisted, and beaded gold. The excesses associated with the later Roman Empire find expression in two-, three-, and four-finger rings, many made in Alexandria, and in the proliferation of baby rings perhaps not only intended for infants and small children but also meant to adorn statuary as votive offerings. In the Byzantine East, devotional rings like small icons depict frontal standing figures of saints, God the Father, or the Virgin Mary. The love of bright, gleaming colors, so evident in Byzantine mosaics, metalwork, and manuscript illumination, has its counterpart in richly enameled rings.

MEROVINGIAN CLOISONNÉ ARCHITECTURAL RING

France, c. 500
Gold and garnet
Weight 10.7 gr; circumference 58.3 mm; US size 8½, UK size Q½

From the end of the fifth century to the first decades of the seventh century, jeweled objects decorated with cloisonné coverings constitute some of the most successful and remarkable productions in the West. Architectural rings like this one are contemporary with small round fibulae. Jeweled objects with cloisonné garnets are encountered from the third century in Crimea and are relatively frequent in eastern and western Europe. They are represented from the fifth and sixth centuries in royal tombs (King Childeric, Queen Aregonde) and in exceptional contexts, such as Sutton Hoo, and as recently seen in Staffordshire in the West Midlands, where in 2009 the largest and most valuable Anglo-Saxon hoard was discovered. This complex architectural ring features a large conical bezel crowned with circular raised bezel with granulated base (this element is structurally supported underneath by a cylindrical shaft), and is set with a garnet cabochon.

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

Reference number: 627

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

Bezel

The upper, protruding part of a finger ring (excluding the hoop and the shoulders) often set with a gemstone.

Granulation

Decoration consisting of minute spherical grains of metal soldered to a background usually in gold; the ancient method which left no solder visible between the grains and the surface of the gold was rediscovered only in the twentieth century.

Cloisonné

Method of applying enamel to metal in which the design is first outlined on the metal surface using a metal wire; the space between the wires is filled with enamel and then fired to a glassy sheen.

Early Christian & Byzantine

Information about rings in late Antiquity comes from Roman authors, such as Pliny, Martial, and Clement of Alexandria. In his Natural History Pliny states: “... many people do not allow any gems in a signet-ring, and seal with the gold itself; this was a fashion invented when Claudius Caesar was Emperor.” The Roman poet Martial remarked in the first century A.D. he had seen a middle-class citizen wearing no less than six rings on each finger; although under Septimus Severus (died 211 A.D.) a decree was issued allowing each soldier to wear a single gold ring. The Church Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, discouraged wearing any jewelry at all. However, they did permit Christians to wear one ring, either the seal of their family or the wedding ring; and rings bearing Christian symbols such as fish, birds, and inscriptions of religious character were deemed acceptable.

The types of rings from this period include examples with nominative inscriptions or plain gold monograms for sealing, marriage and betrothal rings, devotional and religious rings, and decorative rings. Some marriage and fidelity rings are expressly related to the formal institution of marriage and its vows. The symbolic linking of the couple that is expressed in the dextrarum junctio, or the joining of hands, persisted from ceremonies from Roman times. One type of marriage ring thus displays two joined hands. Portraits of the bride and groom, sometimes with crowns over their heads (actually used in ceremonies) or a cross between them, also exist in rings. The man is typically portrayed on the left, in the position of greater importance. Such rings suggest that men and women shared an emotional bond and a practical partnership. Other strictly Byzantine examples depict the bride and groom flanking Christ to indicate that he officiates over the union of bride and groom, sealed by his cross. Typical inscriptions include OMONOIA (Concord) and XAPIC (Grace). In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville wrote: “The ring is given by the espouser to the espoused either as a sign of mutual fidelity ... therefore the ring is placed on the fourth finger because a certain vein, it is said, flows thence to the heart.”

Other types of rings of the period include decorative rings with attractive gemstones, cameos, and intaglios, sometimes set in beautifully wrought bands made with pierced, twisted, and beaded gold. The excesses associated with the later Roman Empire find expression in two-, three-, and four-finger rings, many made in Alexandria, and in the proliferation of baby rings perhaps not only intended for infants and small children but also meant to adorn statuary as votive offerings. In the Byzantine East, devotional rings like small icons depict frontal standing figures of saints, God the Father, or the Virgin Mary. The love of bright, gleaming colors, so evident in Byzantine mosaics, metalwork, and manuscript illumination, has its counterpart in richly enameled rings.

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