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Ring

  • Place of origin:

    Europe (west, made)

  • Date:

    18th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold, inscribed

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Miss M.I. Courtenay

  • Museum number:

    856-1871

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

A gimmel ring (from the Latin 'gemellus', or twin) comprises two or sometimes three interlaced hoops with separate bezels that can be joined snugly together. They were often decorated with clasped hands and hearts, and engraved with romantic mottoes, the phrases from marriage services or with the names of a couple. This suggests they were often used as wedding rings, although they could also be given as more general symbols of friendship and alliance. The form has its origins in single-hooped Roman rings designed to look as though they had more than one hoop thanks to the arrangement of bezels around them. Rings with interlaced hoops are mentioned in early-thirteenth-century Europe, and were particularly popular in the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century. These rings continued to be made into the 19th century, the hoops on later rings are typically joined by a small pin rather than intertwined.

The hands on this ring open up to show two hearts engraved with the letters F and M, which are probably the initials of the two lovers. Rings with a bezel of clasped hands, such as this one, are often known as 'fede' rings. The expression <i>fede</i> or <i>mani in fede</i> is taken from the Italian, meaning 'hands clasped in trust'. The term was popular among nineteenth-century collectors, though it is found as early as the seventeenth century. Among the definitions of 'fede' in John Florio's 1611 Dictionarie of the Italian and English Tongues is 'a ring made with hand in hand'. The term ‘hand in hand’ was common in 16th and 17th century England, for example in the ring left by Johan Broucker to her sister in 1577, described as a 'ringe of golde with an hande in hande'.

The device of clasped hands can be seen much earlier on Roman rings where it signified an alliance, whether political, in marriage or in friendship. By the medieval period, the gesture probably refers to the handclasp which was an integral part of the marriage service. Although a legal marriage in the medieval world could be formed simply by a couple exchanging vows and sealing the agreement with a handclasp, the exchange of a ring solemnised the occasion and could act as a visual proof if the marriage was later disputed. Wedding rings could be very varied in form – gem set or diamond rings were popular amongst those who could afford them, others favoured a gold hoop with a romantic verse engraved inside it or a 'fede' or 'hand in hand' ring.

This ring forms part of a collection of 760 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-87). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899.

Physical description

Gold fede ring with three hoops, the outer each with a hand, the centre with two hearts inscribed 'F' and 'M'.

Place of Origin

Europe (west, made)

Date

18th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Gold, inscribed

Marks and inscriptions

'F' and 'M'
Inscribed on centre hoop, each letter inside a heart.

Dimensions

Height: 2.8 cm, Width: 2.5 cm, Depth: 0.8 cm

Object history note

ex Waterton Collection

Historical significance: A late example of the type

Descriptive line

Gold fede ring with three hoops, the outer each with a hand, the centre with two hearts inscribed 'F' and 'M', West Europe, 18th century

Materials

Gold

Subjects depicted

Hearts (motifs); Hands

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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