The Arnolfini Portrait, displayed in the National Gallery attracts thousands of visitors from across the world to appreciate its exquisite artistry in person. Painted in 1434, this masterpiece is considered the finest work of the artist Jan Van Eyck and depicts a wedding ceremony in Renaissance Europe.
The painting captures a scene with extraordinary details such as lustrous oranges on the floor, amber bead necklaces elegantly dangling on the wall, fashionable ensembles such as the green dress worn by the bride, fur coats and the rich gold jewellery. The intricacies of the piece and the abundance of luxury fare allow the observer to conclude that the central couple were privileged. The perspective invites the viewer into the lavish ceremony and places particular focus on the clasped hands of the marital couple. With the specific placement of the hands one can behold a ring on the young bride’s fourth finger of her left hand, thought to be a wedding band. Using rings as a commitment to marriage can be traced back to the early Christian church. By the 16th century, this practice became widespread amongst the elite and rings were given to each party during marriage ceremonies in Europe.
Based on The Arnolfini Portrait and other surviving portraits from the Renaissance period, we are able to glean that men and women wore rings in profusion. Rings were made of gold or silver - often set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires or emeralds. Goldsmiths transformed the simple designs of Medieval rings into the triumph of Renaissance Art. Designs included ornate cartouches, scrolls, decorative motifs, classical elements and elaborate bright enamels. In the Renaissance period, the newly wealthy selected and searched for the finest materials and superior craftsmanship in their durables. Known as the period in which ‘taste’ collecting, connoisseurship and the collecting of luxury property was birthed, these newfound hobbies are depicted within Van Eyck’s magnificent masterpiece.
Posy rings, gem set rings or gimmel rings were extremely fashionable for wedding rings in the 15th century. For those who could afford them, diamond rings were the first choice as the durable hardness of the gemstone symbolised unbreakable love. Rings featuring a diamond from this period often have inscriptions which were hidden and denoted, faith, love and fidelity. Gemellus translated from Latin as twin or gimmel rings are a version of Fede rings used during this era. They were often exchanged during wedding ceremonies and were decorated with hearts and clasped hands representing the agreement of marriage between the two families. In Britain, wedding rings from this period were a lot more conservative than European styles. Posy rings were also a popular choice for betrothals in the Renaissance time, with romantic poems inscribed inside the hoop. It is possible the ring depicted in the Arnolfini Portrait is in fact a posy ring, hiding a special note between the two betrothed.
At Berganza we specialise in engagement and wedding rings from the post-Medieval and Renaissance period. Many jewels from these periods can often only be seen in the surviving portraits of the time. At Berganza be transported to days gone by and secure a rare survival from a forgotten period.