Figures of Fancy: A History of Figural Rings

Article from Berganza


ront Medieval gold fede ring berganza hatton garden
Medieval Iconographic ring with St George, English, circa 15th century.
Ref: 23079

Friday 5th March 2010

Figural jewellery in the form of human or animal figures —has been made for millennia. Jewels of this kind were fashioned by the Mesopotamians as early as 3000 BC, and were likely used as amulets, or symbolic objects with a protective function. Examples also originate from ancient Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Celtic, Chinese, and South and Central American cultures. Figural jewellery is categorized into two types, either with figures in the round, or with figures set against a background. Rings in particular lend themselves to designs of the first category, with full figures making up the shank of the ring.

In the modern age, figural jewellery, very often rings due to the suitability of the form, became fashionable in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, particularly in France, Italy, and Germany. Evolving from their ancient amuletic use, Renaissance figural jewels often displayed a theme or told a story, frequently Biblical or mythological. Albercht Dürer, the famous Renaissance German artist, is known to have designed rings of this type. Many figural rings from this period incorporated gemstones, as seen in designs for rings by Pierre Woeiriot, a French artist and goldsmith, dating from 1561.

Figural rings became popular again in the latter half of the nineteenth century, first in the guise of various revivalist styles, including the Gothic, Classical, Egyptian and Renaissance modes. Gothic revival style rings integrated full length figures of angels and saints. Sphinxes, pharaohs, and serpents can be found in Egyptian revival style rings, and Greco-Roman gods and nymphs in Classical revival style works, both drawing on ancient examples. Rings in these two styles were regularly set with intaglios, which again were inspired by their ancient counterparts. Renaissance revival designs largely mimicked the human and mythological forms of the Renaissance originals discussed above.

Around the turn of the twentieth century jewellers working in the Art Nouveau style embraced the use of the human form, especially nudes. These rings, like the original Renaissance jewels, were often allegorically themed. They are distinctive from the earlier revivalist figural rings in their swirling, intertwined designs, so characteristic of the Art Nouveau.

Whatever their age, ancient to antique, figural rings allow the wearer to bear not only a piece of beautiful jewellery, but also a piece of sculptural art, and as well as a myth.

REFERENCES

Diana Scarisbrick, Rings:  Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty, Thames and Hudson, 2007.

Hugh Tait, 7000 Years of Jewellery, The British Museum Press, 2006.

front view ancient norman gold lion ring berganza hatton garden
Norman gold ring with lion, circa 11th-12th century AD.
Ref: 22871
front view Ancient Roman signet ring, 2nd 3rd century AD.
Ancient Roman signet ring, 2nd-3rd century AD.
Ref: 17617
front view Byzantine gold iconographic ring, circa 6th   10th century.
Byzantine gold icon ring, circa 6th - 10th century.
Ref: 20797
ancient lion ring berganza hatton garden
Romano-Egyptian leonine gold ring, circa 1st century BC.
Ref: 15895
front view Sasanian cornelian intaglio ring, circa 224 651 AD.
Sasanian cornelian intaglio ring, circa 224-651 AD.
Ref: 21253
Berganza on Twitter Berganza on Facebook Berganza on Instagram

Email: info@berganza.com | Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm | Currencies accepted: £ $
Berganza on twitter Berganza on Facebook Berganza on Instagram Berganza on Pinterest
Updated 11/12/2019 at 4:28PM

| Latest Acquisitions | Copyright Notice | Terms & Conditions | Categories | Privacy Policy | FAQs |

© Berganza Ltd 2019