Medieval Rings

les Enluminures
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RING WITH GARNET CABOCHON

Western Europe, probably England, late 13th-14th century

Gold, with re-purposed garnet cabochon

  • 11.900 €
  • £10,600
  • $14,000
  • RING WITH GARNET CABOCHON

    Western Europe, probably England, late 13th-14th century
    Gold, with re-purposed garnet cabochon
    Weight 2 gr.; bezel 8.9 x 6.5 x 6.5 mm.; circumference: 58.21 mm.; US size 8.5; UK size Q ¾

    In the Middle Ages stones such as rubies, sapphires and emeralds were considered to be most precious and of great value, as also garnets which were hugely popular. They were sourced from countries in the Middle and Far East and traded within Europe through ports such as Venice and Genoa in Italy. It is therefore not unusual to find re-used gemstones even in magnificent reliquaries or other goldsmiths’ work. Such gemstones were spolia from earlier periods, mainly from Roman or Byzantine jewelry and often had the drill holes from a previous mounting, sometimes the channels remain visible. Here the goldsmith used his ingenuity by filling the hole with gold and making it an ornamental feature. Rings with similar designs can be found all over Western Europe, it was a period of International styles and it is thus difficult to attribute the place of production. During the medieval period red gemstones were often mistakenly labeled as rubies, spinels or garnets. Due to the color garnets were thought to have beneficial properties to strengthen the heart, this ring may have been worn for its medical properties or given as a token of love. If only such jewels could tell the story of their owners.

    Description:
    The slender gold hoop is plain inside, and outside the ornament is composed of circular forms alternating with triple ridges in a frieze.  There may originally have been enamel. The hoop ends support a high cup-shaped bezel with oblong garnet cabochon. On one end the garnet has a gold insert which was a decorative solution to cover the original drill hole from an earlier piece of jewelry. The ring is in good wearable condition.

    Literature:
    In the Alice and Louis Koch Collection there is a similar ring in type and proportions with oblong-shaped ruby cabochon (Chadour 1994, vol. 1, no. 572 with further parallels). For the circular ornamentation of the hoop, cf. a group of ring brooches found on the beach in Tyre, Lebanon and compared with the Colmar Treasure (exh. cat. Treasures of the Black Death 2009, nos. 36 d-f). These have traces of enamel which may point to an original enameling of the circles on the present ring. Similar settings with cabochons in the jewelry found in the Colmar and Erfurt Treasures suggest a date for the ring in the second half of the 13th-14th century (exh. cat. Treasures of the Black Death 2009).  A further example found in Norway, cf. Alf Hammervold, Fingerringer fra Middelalderen I Norge, Oslo 1997, no. 84) shows how international designs were at the time. 

    Reference number: 756

  • 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

  • Cabochon

    Precious or semi-precious stone that is merely polished without being cut into facets and was much used in the Middle Ages.

    Hoop

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

    Bezel

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

  • 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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RING WITH GARNET CABOCHON

Western Europe, probably England, late 13th-14th century
Gold, with re-purposed garnet cabochon
Weight 2 gr.; bezel 8.9 x 6.5 x 6.5 mm.; circumference: 58.21 mm.; US size 8.5; UK size Q ¾

USD $14,000

In the Middle Ages stones such as rubies, sapphires and emeralds were considered to be most precious and of great value, as also garnets which were hugely popular. They were sourced from countries in the Middle and Far East and traded within Europe through ports such as Venice and Genoa in Italy. It is therefore not unusual to find re-used gemstones even in magnificent reliquaries or other goldsmiths’ work. Such gemstones were spolia from earlier periods, mainly from Roman or Byzantine jewelry and often had the drill holes from a previous mounting, sometimes the channels remain visible. Here the goldsmith used his ingenuity by filling the hole with gold and making it an ornamental feature. Rings with similar designs can be found all over Western Europe, it was a period of International styles and it is thus difficult to attribute the place of production. During the medieval period red gemstones were often mistakenly labeled as rubies, spinels or garnets. Due to the color garnets were thought to have beneficial properties to strengthen the heart, this ring may have been worn for its medical properties or given as a token of love. If only such jewels could tell the story of their owners.

Description:
The slender gold hoop is plain inside, and outside the ornament is composed of circular forms alternating with triple ridges in a frieze.  There may originally have been enamel. The hoop ends support a high cup-shaped bezel with oblong garnet cabochon. On one end the garnet has a gold insert which was a decorative solution to cover the original drill hole from an earlier piece of jewelry. The ring is in good wearable condition.

Literature:
In the Alice and Louis Koch Collection there is a similar ring in type and proportions with oblong-shaped ruby cabochon (Chadour 1994, vol. 1, no. 572 with further parallels). For the circular ornamentation of the hoop, cf. a group of ring brooches found on the beach in Tyre, Lebanon and compared with the Colmar Treasure (exh. cat. Treasures of the Black Death 2009, nos. 36 d-f). These have traces of enamel which may point to an original enameling of the circles on the present ring. Similar settings with cabochons in the jewelry found in the Colmar and Erfurt Treasures suggest a date for the ring in the second half of the 13th-14th century (exh. cat. Treasures of the Black Death 2009).  A further example found in Norway, cf. Alf Hammervold, Fingerringer fra Middelalderen I Norge, Oslo 1997, no. 84) shows how international designs were at the time. 

Reference number: 756

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