Medieval Rings

les Enluminures
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Hellenistic Ring with Amphora

Greece, 2nd – 1st century BC

Gold, garnet cabochon, green glass

  • 80.500 €
  • £71,000
  • $95,000
  • Hellenistic Ring with Amphora

    Greece, 2nd – 1st century BC
    Gold, garnet cabochon, green glass
    Weight 8.1 gr., US size 6.5, UK size N

    This delicate openwork hoop is composed of gold wires with square section. These form the hoop’s outer framework and inner pattern with symmetrical C-scrolls and globules. Vertical and horizontal beaded wires add to the structure. A hinge joins the hoop and amphora-shaped bezel. The double-handled amphora is constructed from gold sheet metal shaped with a repoussé technique and outlined by beaded wires; in the center is an oval collet-set hessonite garnet cabochon. Green glass vine leaves, pearls as grapes, and gold ivy leaves envelop the handles. Two projecting colletset hessonite garnets attached by tabs form both base and lid of the amphora. The bezel of this ring may have been intended as an earring or pendant, only to be adapted to be worn as a ring; a comparable hoop construction is applied to a Roman ring in the British Museum, London.
    Here a Hellenistic ring takes the form of a wine vessel, an amphora, and its imagery relates indirectly to its function. With its vines and grapes, including ivy leaves hanging over the sides, this ring refers to Dionysus, the god of wine, excess, and merriment. Dionysiac imagery was often associated with fertility. Perhaps the wearer of the ring wished to bear children, or possibly the ring functioned simply as an alluring jewel to attract the opposite sex.

    Provenance:
    Private collection, London, from late 1970s to 1991; private collection, 1991-2007.

    Reference number: 752

  • 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

  • Bezel

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

    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.

  • Ancient

    The term “ancient” can include everything from Egypt to Etruscan and Phoenician to Greece, literally thousands of years of history. Here we are concerned primarily with Hellenistic and Imperial Rome. The Hellenistic age extends from c. 325 B.C. until the inauguration of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C.; and Imperial Rome thereafter until the reign of Constantine from c. 306-327 and the Sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths led by Alaric.

    Both gold (from extensive new mining operations) and precious stones (from new trade routes) were plentiful during the Hellenist Age, and jewelry was highly prized as conveying social status. Multicolored gemstones were in frequent use, chalcedonies, cornelians, and above all garnets (from India). Seed pearls, emeralds, and amethysts also are found by the first and second centuries B.C. While Hellenistic jewelry much imitated Greek prototypes, some forms originate during this era, and they include the Heracles knot that remained popular through Roman times and the hinged ring.

    At first, Roman rings of the Imperial period were relatively simple, but by the first century the taste for luxury and displays of wealth was much noted by Roman writers. Martial and other critics of Roman society parodied the newly rich (see Spier 2012, p. 12). One of his epigrams ridicules the dandy Charinus, who wears six rings on each finger and never takes them off because he does not have a gem case (implying that he does not own them they are rented). In Petronius’s Satyricon, Fortunata the wife of a former slave is mocked for wearing at least “six and half pounds on her” during a banquet. These accounts speak to the wide availability of jewelry during this era. Among the new forms, the new pierced openwork in gold (opus interrasile) is worth noting. By the later Roman Empire, especially the third through fifth centuries, Roman jewelry becomes more sophisticated: among the forms that date from this time are double- and triple- bezel rings, as well as the pyramid setting.

    A certain amount of information survives concerning the making of jewelry in antiquity. Jewelry is almost always described by weight and if there are stones the weight without the stones is given. These weights are closely related to those of coinage, so customers may have supplied coins to itinerant or shop-based craftsmen. There were certainly guilds in Roman times. We also suspect that children worked as jewelers and engravers; there is a tombstone of a 19 year old gem engraver known. Archeological finds reveal that shops surrounding the marketplace belonged to retail traders dealing with the local market; there are transfer and rental agreements for jewelry shows (see Ogden 1982, p. 177). The shop of one jeweler was only 5 feet by 4 feet in size, much like artisan’s workshops throughout the medieval era. Certainly itinerant goldsmiths must also have existed.

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Hellenistic Ring with Amphora

Greece, 2nd – 1st century BC
Gold, garnet cabochon, green glass
Weight 8.1 gr., US size 6.5, UK size N

USD $95,000

This delicate openwork hoop is composed of gold wires with square section. These form the hoop’s outer framework and inner pattern with symmetrical C-scrolls and globules. Vertical and horizontal beaded wires add to the structure. A hinge joins the hoop and amphora-shaped bezel. The double-handled amphora is constructed from gold sheet metal shaped with a repoussé technique and outlined by beaded wires; in the center is an oval collet-set hessonite garnet cabochon. Green glass vine leaves, pearls as grapes, and gold ivy leaves envelop the handles. Two projecting colletset hessonite garnets attached by tabs form both base and lid of the amphora. The bezel of this ring may have been intended as an earring or pendant, only to be adapted to be worn as a ring; a comparable hoop construction is applied to a Roman ring in the British Museum, London.
Here a Hellenistic ring takes the form of a wine vessel, an amphora, and its imagery relates indirectly to its function. With its vines and grapes, including ivy leaves hanging over the sides, this ring refers to Dionysus, the god of wine, excess, and merriment. Dionysiac imagery was often associated with fertility. Perhaps the wearer of the ring wished to bear children, or possibly the ring functioned simply as an alluring jewel to attract the opposite sex.

Provenance:
Private collection, London, from late 1970s to 1991; private collection, 1991-2007.

Reference number: 752

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