Medieval Rings

les Enluminures
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Gold Ring with the Standing Virgin and Child and Openwork Band

Early Byzantine, late 7th-early 8th century

Gold

  • 42.400 €
  • £37,400
  • $50,000
  • Gold Ring with the Standing Virgin and Child and Openwork Band

    Early Byzantine, late 7th-early 8th century
    Gold
    Circumference 59.34 mm.; weight 7.5 gr.; US size 9; UK size R ¾

    The oval bezel is engraved with a stylized image in repousse of the standing Virgin and Child of the Hodegetria type, flanked by two crosses. Between two beaded borders, the wide hoop (7 mm.) contains an inscription in openwork ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕ ΒΟΗΘΙ ΕVΤΑΘΙΑC, “Mother of God Help Eustatia.”

    The “Virgin of Hodegetria,” a revered icon kept in the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople, was considered one of the most powerful and enduring icon types of the Byzantine world. Said to possess miraculous powers, the image was carried into battle and invoked against sickness. Indeed, the inscription on the present ring invokes the Virgin’s help on the part of the wearer, a woman named Eustatia. The importance of the Hodegetria image at an early date is demonstrated by its appearance on seals of the emperors starting in the time of Constantine IV (681-685) and on this rare and early ring. The fine engraving and elaborate design of the ring suggest that Eustatia must have been an important person of substantial wealth. The frequent exhibition and publication of the ring confirms its importance.

    Provenance:
    Munich, Collection C.S., no. 949

    Exhibited:
    Munich, Praehistorische Staatssammlung, 20 Oct. 1998 - 14 Feb. 1999.
    Athens, Benaki Museum, 20 Oct. 2000 - 20 Jan. 2001.

    Published:
    Wamser and Zahlhaas 1998, p. 226, no. 337
    Yeroulanu 1999, p. 164, 168, 258, no. 321A
    Vassilaki 2000, p. 294, no. 13

    Reference number: 850

  • Bezel

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

    Hoop

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

    Engraving

    Technique of cutting patterns into a surface with a sharp tool; an impression made from the cut surface shows the design of the incised lines in reverse (hence intaglio).

    Band

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

  • 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 Ring with the Standing Virgin and Child and Openwork Band

Early Byzantine, late 7th-early 8th century
Gold
Circumference 59.34 mm.; weight 7.5 gr.; US size 9; UK size R ¾

USD $50,000

The oval bezel is engraved with a stylized image in repousse of the standing Virgin and Child of the Hodegetria type, flanked by two crosses. Between two beaded borders, the wide hoop (7 mm.) contains an inscription in openwork ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕ ΒΟΗΘΙ ΕVΤΑΘΙΑC, “Mother of God Help Eustatia.”

The “Virgin of Hodegetria,” a revered icon kept in the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople, was considered one of the most powerful and enduring icon types of the Byzantine world. Said to possess miraculous powers, the image was carried into battle and invoked against sickness. Indeed, the inscription on the present ring invokes the Virgin’s help on the part of the wearer, a woman named Eustatia. The importance of the Hodegetria image at an early date is demonstrated by its appearance on seals of the emperors starting in the time of Constantine IV (681-685) and on this rare and early ring. The fine engraving and elaborate design of the ring suggest that Eustatia must have been an important person of substantial wealth. The frequent exhibition and publication of the ring confirms its importance.

Provenance:
Munich, Collection C.S., no. 949

Exhibited:
Munich, Praehistorische Staatssammlung, 20 Oct. 1998 - 14 Feb. 1999.
Athens, Benaki Museum, 20 Oct. 2000 - 20 Jan. 2001.

Published:
Wamser and Zahlhaas 1998, p. 226, no. 337
Yeroulanu 1999, p. 164, 168, 258, no. 321A
Vassilaki 2000, p. 294, no. 13

Reference number: 850

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