Medieval Rings

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Gold Gemstone Ring with Garnet Intaglio of a Cruciform Monogram

Early Byzantine, c. 550-600 AD

Gold and Garnet

  • 25.400 €
  • £22,800
  • $30,000
  • Gold Gemstone Ring with Garnet Intaglio of a Cruciform Monogram

    Early Byzantine, c. 550-600 AD
    Gold and Garnet
    Circumference 38.26 mm.; weight 3.8 gr.; US size 0.75; UK size A ½

    A hoop of tubular wire between two beaded wires joins a thin, circular box-bezel; four pellets mark the join, two on either side of the bezel. Set in the bezel is a convex garnet gem that is carved with a mirror-inverted cruciform Greek monogram composed of Φ, Π, Ν, Ε, Α, Ο, and Υ, probably ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥ, Epiphaniou, a Greek surname.

    The use of personal monograms on jewelry was periodically fashionable in Greek and Roman times but became especially popular in the early Byzantine period. According to Jeffrey Spier, in about the 520s, cross-shaped monograms were introduced on imperial coins and monuments and became quickly popular for personal use. Engraved gems of Byzantine date are rare, however, and the shape of the present garnet is unusual, distinguishing it from the earlier “garnet group” (see Spier 2012, p. 140). A similar monogram is found on a lead seal of the late sixth or seventh century once in the Zacos Collection (Zacos and Veglery, 1972, pl. 232, 129-132).

    Provenance:
    Lyons and Paris, Claudius Côte (1881-1956) (see Collection de Bagues, Angers 1906, p. 12, no. 122)
    Munich, Collection C.S., no. 2906

    Published:
    Jeffrey Spier 2007, p. 93, no. 542

    Reference number: 856

  • 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

  • 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.

    Box setting

    A box-shaped bezel setting either in the form of a quadrangle or rectangle with a closed underside.

    Gemstone

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

    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.

  • 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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Gold Gemstone Ring with Garnet Intaglio of a Cruciform Monogram

Early Byzantine, c. 550-600 AD
Gold and Garnet
Circumference 38.26 mm.; weight 3.8 gr.; US size 0.75; UK size A ½

USD $30,000

A hoop of tubular wire between two beaded wires joins a thin, circular box-bezel; four pellets mark the join, two on either side of the bezel. Set in the bezel is a convex garnet gem that is carved with a mirror-inverted cruciform Greek monogram composed of Φ, Π, Ν, Ε, Α, Ο, and Υ, probably ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥ, Epiphaniou, a Greek surname.

The use of personal monograms on jewelry was periodically fashionable in Greek and Roman times but became especially popular in the early Byzantine period. According to Jeffrey Spier, in about the 520s, cross-shaped monograms were introduced on imperial coins and monuments and became quickly popular for personal use. Engraved gems of Byzantine date are rare, however, and the shape of the present garnet is unusual, distinguishing it from the earlier “garnet group” (see Spier 2012, p. 140). A similar monogram is found on a lead seal of the late sixth or seventh century once in the Zacos Collection (Zacos and Veglery, 1972, pl. 232, 129-132).

Provenance:
Lyons and Paris, Claudius Côte (1881-1956) (see Collection de Bagues, Angers 1906, p. 12, no. 122)
Munich, Collection C.S., no. 2906

Published:
Jeffrey Spier 2007, p. 93, no. 542

Reference number: 856

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