Medieval Rings

les Enluminures
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Early Byzantine Emerald and Pearl Ring

Byzantium, early 6th century

Gold, emerald, and pearl

  • 42.900 €
  • £37,000
  • $48,000
  • Early Byzantine Emerald and Pearl Ring

    Byzantium, early 6th century
    Gold, emerald, and pearl
    Weight 7.4 gr.; circumference 54.51 mm.; US size 7; UK size O

    In Ancient Rome emeralds were a favorite gemstone of ladies, who often wore them in combination with pearls to enhance their beauty. The emerald in its natural form has a hexagonal prism shape, and the Roman jewelers adapted their designs to take advantage of this feature. Pliny in his famous books on Natural History (79 AD) describes the different qualities of this popular gemstone. According to his accounts, the best was Scythian, then Bactrian and more common were the emeralds mined near the Red Sea in Upper Egypt, a part of their vast Empire. These mines were famous during her reign of Cleopatra, the glamorous queen, who was said to have given emeralds to those whom she favored.

    Description:
    The gold ring has a rounded hoop with flattened sides which supports a rectangular bezel. A natural-shaped emerald in a closed box-setting is framed by a decorative scalloped border. On one side is a protruding stud with pearl encased in a bowl-shaped setting surrounded with beaded wire. The pearl is drilled and swivels within the setting. The ring is in good wearable condition.

    Provenance:
    Private Collection before 1973.

    Literature:
    The open, often chiseled, scalloped or fluted borders surrounding a gemstone is found in Roman jewelry of the 3rd to the 5th century, cf. earrings found in Lyon, France, in the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon, and for variations on pendants (Lucia Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, L’oro dei Romani, Rome 1992, nos. 226, 234, 244, 260, 269. For Late Roman and Byzantine rings with similar settings and double bezels, cf. two examples in the Alice and Louis Koch Collection (Chadour 1994, vol. I, nos. 426 and 484); in the British Museum, London (Marshall 1907 nos. 815 and 818).  See Spier, 2012, nos. 8 and 13; and Hindman/Miller, 2015, nos. 11 and 12, following Spier’s suggestion that the same workshop produced rings of this form. 

    Reference number: 761

  • Emerald

    Hard, green precious stone , emeralds (and all forms of beryl) have large, perfect, six-sided crystals. Before the discovery of the new world, emeralds came mostly from Egypt; the finer emeralds come from the New World.

    Pearls

    Organic gems grown within oysters and a few other mollusks, pearls are formed when a foreign object (like a tiny stone) has made its way into the mollusk's shell. The mollusk secretes nacre , a lustrous substance that coats the intruding object. As thousands of layers of nacre coat the intruder, a pearl is formed. This process takes up to seven or eight years (an oyster's useful life span).

    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

  • Gemstone

    Gemstone (also called a precious stone) is a mineral that is valuable, rare and often beautiful.

    Bezel

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

  • 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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Early Byzantine Emerald and Pearl Ring

Byzantium, early 6th century
Gold, emerald, and pearl
Weight 7.4 gr.; circumference 54.51 mm.; US size 7; UK size O

USD $48,000

In Ancient Rome emeralds were a favorite gemstone of ladies, who often wore them in combination with pearls to enhance their beauty. The emerald in its natural form has a hexagonal prism shape, and the Roman jewelers adapted their designs to take advantage of this feature. Pliny in his famous books on Natural History (79 AD) describes the different qualities of this popular gemstone. According to his accounts, the best was Scythian, then Bactrian and more common were the emeralds mined near the Red Sea in Upper Egypt, a part of their vast Empire. These mines were famous during her reign of Cleopatra, the glamorous queen, who was said to have given emeralds to those whom she favored.

Description:
The gold ring has a rounded hoop with flattened sides which supports a rectangular bezel. A natural-shaped emerald in a closed box-setting is framed by a decorative scalloped border. On one side is a protruding stud with pearl encased in a bowl-shaped setting surrounded with beaded wire. The pearl is drilled and swivels within the setting. The ring is in good wearable condition.

Provenance:
Private Collection before 1973.

Literature:
The open, often chiseled, scalloped or fluted borders surrounding a gemstone is found in Roman jewelry of the 3rd to the 5th century, cf. earrings found in Lyon, France, in the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon, and for variations on pendants (Lucia Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, L’oro dei Romani, Rome 1992, nos. 226, 234, 244, 260, 269. For Late Roman and Byzantine rings with similar settings and double bezels, cf. two examples in the Alice and Louis Koch Collection (Chadour 1994, vol. I, nos. 426 and 484); in the British Museum, London (Marshall 1907 nos. 815 and 818).  See Spier, 2012, nos. 8 and 13; and Hindman/Miller, 2015, nos. 11 and 12, following Spier’s suggestion that the same workshop produced rings of this form. 

Reference number: 761

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