Medieval Rings

les Enluminures
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Signet Ring with Double-headed Eagle

Western Europe (Germany or Austria ?), c. 1700

Gold, remnants of black sealing wax

  • 10.200 €
  • £9,100
  • $12,000
  • Signet Ring with Double-headed Eagle

    Western Europe (Germany or Austria ?), c. 1700
    Gold, remnants of black sealing wax
    7.4 gr.; circumference 54.51 mm.; US size 7, UK size O

    During the Renaissance and Baroque period, trade within Europe and across the globe increased dramatically, resulting in the great wealth of merchants, guilds and landowners. Seals and signet rings worn as a sign of rank and authority were no longer reserved for nobility. Signet rings were used as a form of authentication of documents, property, or merchandise during trade. A signet ring with seal matrix was an easily wearable and convenient form of identification. Signets were personal to the owner and could include initials, a family crest, a symbol relating to a profession, or simply had a special meaning for the wearer. In heraldry the eagle, the king of birds, was the messenger of the gods and a symbol of power that stood for courage and strength. The double-headed eagle was the imperial emblem of the Holy Roman Emperors and is related to Germany and Austria, but also Russia.

    Description:
    The gold ring with wide hoop is rounded on the exterior and interior, and increases in width towards the ends. The octagonal bezel forms a seal with engraved motif of a double-headed (bicapitate) eagle displayed and surrounded by a beaded border. On the underside of the bezel is the unidentified maker’s mark “M” in a shield-shaped punch. The ring is in good wearable condition.

    Provenance:
    Discovered in Sandwich, Kent in 2015 (UK Treasure Report Number 2015 T 920, seen by the British Museum).

    Literature:
    More common for signet rings is the use of the single-headed eagle or falcon as a family crest. The double-headed eagle appears on a ring in the British Museum, London (Dalton 1912, no. 611) and on a signet ring with tobacco-stopper in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (743-1871).

    Reference number: 818

  • Bezel

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

    Band

    A ring made from a thin, often flat, ribbon-like strip of material (usually metal). The band can be unadorned or decorated.

    Hoop

    Also called the shank, the rounded part of the ring that encircles the finger and connects to the bezel at the shoulders.

    Seal

    Mounted in rings or hung on a chain, seals were once extensively used as a means of identification and only by relatively important people. Seals are carved in hard stones (like sard or jasper ) using intaglio or engraved on gold signet rings.

  • 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.

     

Signet Ring with Double-headed Eagle

Western Europe (Germany or Austria ?), c. 1700
Gold, remnants of black sealing wax
7.4 gr.; circumference 54.51 mm.; US size 7, UK size O

During the Renaissance and Baroque period, trade within Europe and across the globe increased dramatically, resulting in the great wealth of merchants, guilds and landowners. Seals and signet rings worn as a sign of rank and authority were no longer reserved for nobility. Signet rings were used as a form of authentication of documents, property, or merchandise during trade. A signet ring with seal matrix was an easily wearable and convenient form of identification. Signets were personal to the owner and could include initials, a family crest, a symbol relating to a profession, or simply had a special meaning for the wearer. In heraldry the eagle, the king of birds, was the messenger of the gods and a symbol of power that stood for courage and strength. The double-headed eagle was the imperial emblem of the Holy Roman Emperors and is related to Germany and Austria, but also Russia.

Description:
The gold ring with wide hoop is rounded on the exterior and interior, and increases in width towards the ends. The octagonal bezel forms a seal with engraved motif of a double-headed (bicapitate) eagle displayed and surrounded by a beaded border. On the underside of the bezel is the unidentified maker’s mark “M” in a shield-shaped punch. The ring is in good wearable condition.

Provenance:
Discovered in Sandwich, Kent in 2015 (UK Treasure Report Number 2015 T 920, seen by the British Museum).

Literature:
More common for signet rings is the use of the single-headed eagle or falcon as a family crest. The double-headed eagle appears on a ring in the British Museum, London (Dalton 1912, no. 611) and on a signet ring with tobacco-stopper in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (743-1871).

Reference number: 818

Bezel

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

Band

A ring made from a thin, often flat, ribbon-like strip of material (usually metal). The band can be unadorned or decorated.

Hoop

Also called the shank, the rounded part of the ring that encircles the finger and connects to the bezel at the shoulders.

Seal

Mounted in rings or hung on a chain, seals were once extensively used as a means of identification and only by relatively important people. Seals are carved in hard stones (like sard or jasper ) using intaglio or engraved on gold signet rings.

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.

 

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