Medieval Rings

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RENAISSANCE SAPPHIRE RING ENGRAVED WITH ACANTHUS AND PALMETTES

France? c. 1540

Gold and sapphire

sold
  • RENAISSANCE SAPPHIRE RING ENGRAVED WITH ACANTHUS AND PALMETTES

    France? c. 1540
    Gold and sapphire
    Weight 7.6 gr; circumference 51.9 mm; US size 6; UK size L½

    The classical ornament of palmettes and acanthus leaves indicates that this ring belongs to the Renaissance period, in which new motifs – acanthus leaves, terms, putti, satyrs, masks, cornucopias – known as “antiques” derived from the grottesche in ruins of Nero’s Golden House and from Roman sculpture as reinterpreted in fifteenth-century Italy, were adopted by jewelers. Less esteemed than in the Middle Ages, the sapphire was nonetheless the choice for episcopal rings of both the Roman Catholic bishop of Milan St. Charles Borromeo (appointed 1564) and the Protestant Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury (appointed 1559). It was prized not only on account of the celestial color but also for the various biblical allusions.

    Provenance: Dame Joan Evans (1893–1977); Benjamin Zucker, New York; on deposit, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 1985–2013.

    Reference number: 632

  • Sapphire

    Precious gemstone (a type of corundum like the ruby), the sapphire ranges in color from blue to pink to yellow to green to white to purple (mauve sapphire) to pink-orange. Along with Sri Lanka, during the Middle Ages, Burma started selling its sapphire to India.

    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.

  • Renaissance & Baroque

    Considerable evidence exists concerning the making and wearing of rings in the Renaissance. Their appearance in painted portraits confirms that they continued to be worn on multiple fingers, suspended from chains and ribbons, sewn onto sleeves or hats, and so forth. When not worn they were sometimes stored on parchment rolls or in neatly compartmentalized boxes, known from documents and paintings. In the Renaissance, the medieval practice of using uncut stones was abandoned in favor of faceting; table-cut facets were among the earliest and most popular, but other cuts rapidly followed. Making rings that would show off best the qualities of the stone became a skill that exercised the virtuosity of cutters, chasers, engravers, enamellers, and goldsmiths sometimes in collaboration. The highly sculpturesque quality of most Renaissance and Baroque rings can be compared with the striving for greater veracity that characterizes the monumental arts of this period.

    By far the most common type of ring from the Renaissance was the boxed bezel set with faceted stones in highly ornate geometric bezels with intricate articulated shoulders, sometimes with protruding volutes, the whole richly enameled. Surviving drawings for rings by sixteenth-century goldsmith-designers Etienne Delaune, Pierre Woeiriot, and René Boyvin record variations on this type. Often reviving classical subjects and motifs, numerous cameos and intaglios also date from this era, produced under illustrious, often princely, patronage. By the sixteenth century the careers of famous gem-cutters can be reconstructed; they include Valerio Belli, Alessandro Cesati, Alessandro Masnago, and Francesco Torino. However, few Renaissance cameos and intaglios appear in their original mounts, because they were often made not as rings but rather as virtuoso carvings, kept in drawers in cabinets and taken out and admired by Renaissance princes.

    During Elizabethan and Tudor times in England, commonplace books (the earliest dated 1596) were used by goldsmiths and their customers to provide appropriate inscriptions for rings. References to posy rings (from “poésie” or poetry) abound in literature of the period; for example, in Shakespeare's Hamlet (III, ii, 162): “Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring.” The discovery of the New World also wrought changes in the evolution of rings, as it did for painting, because new stones became available. The newly prized diamond, expensive then as now, was often imitated by the similarly favored rock crystal. Extensive surviving pictorial evidence is useful because it contributes to a more precise dating and localization of rings from this era.

     

RENAISSANCE SAPPHIRE RING ENGRAVED WITH ACANTHUS AND PALMETTES

France? c. 1540
Gold and sapphire
Weight 7.6 gr; circumference 51.9 mm; US size 6; UK size L½

The classical ornament of palmettes and acanthus leaves indicates that this ring belongs to the Renaissance period, in which new motifs – acanthus leaves, terms, putti, satyrs, masks, cornucopias – known as “antiques” derived from the grottesche in ruins of Nero’s Golden House and from Roman sculpture as reinterpreted in fifteenth-century Italy, were adopted by jewelers. Less esteemed than in the Middle Ages, the sapphire was nonetheless the choice for episcopal rings of both the Roman Catholic bishop of Milan St. Charles Borromeo (appointed 1564) and the Protestant Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury (appointed 1559). It was prized not only on account of the celestial color but also for the various biblical allusions.

Provenance: Dame Joan Evans (1893–1977); Benjamin Zucker, New York; on deposit, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 1985–2013.

Reference number: 632

Sapphire

Precious gemstone (a type of corundum like the ruby), the sapphire ranges in color from blue to pink to yellow to green to white to purple (mauve sapphire) to pink-orange. Along with Sri Lanka, during the Middle Ages, Burma started selling its sapphire to India.

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.

Renaissance & Baroque

Considerable evidence exists concerning the making and wearing of rings in the Renaissance. Their appearance in painted portraits confirms that they continued to be worn on multiple fingers, suspended from chains and ribbons, sewn onto sleeves or hats, and so forth. When not worn they were sometimes stored on parchment rolls or in neatly compartmentalized boxes, known from documents and paintings. In the Renaissance, the medieval practice of using uncut stones was abandoned in favor of faceting; table-cut facets were among the earliest and most popular, but other cuts rapidly followed. Making rings that would show off best the qualities of the stone became a skill that exercised the virtuosity of cutters, chasers, engravers, enamellers, and goldsmiths sometimes in collaboration. The highly sculpturesque quality of most Renaissance and Baroque rings can be compared with the striving for greater veracity that characterizes the monumental arts of this period.

By far the most common type of ring from the Renaissance was the boxed bezel set with faceted stones in highly ornate geometric bezels with intricate articulated shoulders, sometimes with protruding volutes, the whole richly enameled. Surviving drawings for rings by sixteenth-century goldsmith-designers Etienne Delaune, Pierre Woeiriot, and René Boyvin record variations on this type. Often reviving classical subjects and motifs, numerous cameos and intaglios also date from this era, produced under illustrious, often princely, patronage. By the sixteenth century the careers of famous gem-cutters can be reconstructed; they include Valerio Belli, Alessandro Cesati, Alessandro Masnago, and Francesco Torino. However, few Renaissance cameos and intaglios appear in their original mounts, because they were often made not as rings but rather as virtuoso carvings, kept in drawers in cabinets and taken out and admired by Renaissance princes.

During Elizabethan and Tudor times in England, commonplace books (the earliest dated 1596) were used by goldsmiths and their customers to provide appropriate inscriptions for rings. References to posy rings (from “poésie” or poetry) abound in literature of the period; for example, in Shakespeare's Hamlet (III, ii, 162): “Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring.” The discovery of the New World also wrought changes in the evolution of rings, as it did for painting, because new stones became available. The newly prized diamond, expensive then as now, was often imitated by the similarly favored rock crystal. Extensive surviving pictorial evidence is useful because it contributes to a more precise dating and localization of rings from this era.