Signet Ring thumbnail 1
Signet Ring thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery

Signet Ring

late 15th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This ring would have been used as a signet, pressed into hot wax to seal a letter or packet. Personal seals (secreta) provided an essential legal safeguard and were used to witness documents such as wills, deeds of gift, loans and commercial documents, personal letters and land indentures. A letter from Lord Berengario in Verona in 906 underscores the importance of the signet:

‘So that this may be more truly believed and more faithfully observed, we order this to be sealed with our ring, confirming it with our own hand’.

Signets could be engraved with a coat of arms for those entitled to bear them, with a personal device or simply with an initial letter. The bezel of this ring is engraved with a chalice, used in the Christian mass to hold communion wine, and with a communion wafer. The inscription 'ana maria' (or possibly 'ave maria' - Hail Mary) inside the hoop may refer to the Virgin Mary and her mother Anne. The ring may therefore have belonged to a priest or other church figure.

The Tau crosses on the shoulders of this ring are an ancient Christian symbol, possibly derived from the Egyptian ankh. It is the symbol of St Anthony Abbot, an Egyptian hermit and swineherd of the third century AD. The Tau cross is said to represent the crutch which he used to control his herd. The resemblance of the Tau to a cross led to it being ascribed a mystical significance. St Anthony was believed to cure ergotism, or St Anthony's fire (a neurological illness caused by the ergot fungus which can grow on mouldy rye grain) and to protect the faithful against pestilence and poisoning. He was the patron saint of the poor and sick and of knights, butchers and brushmakers. A ring bearing the symbol of St Anthony would confer the protection of the saint on the wearer.



Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Engraved silver
Brief description
Silver signet ring with a hexagonal bezel engraved with a chalice and wafer between f and o in black letter. The shoulders engraved with a Tau cross and a flower. The hoop inscribed inside, West Europe, late 15th century
Physical description
Silver signet ring with a hexagonal bezel engraved with a chalice and wafer between fand oin black letter. The shoulders are engraved with a Tau cross and a flower. The hoop is inscribed inside ana+m+aria or possible 'ave maria'.
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.7cm
  • Width: 2.6cm
  • Depth: 1.3cm
Marks and inscriptions
  • initials f and o (in black letter)
  • inscribed inside ana+m+aria (The hoop)
Object history
From the Harman-Oates Collection - sold at Sotheby's, February 20, 1929, lot. 25. Found at Stonham Aspal, Suffolk.



Images of chalices are occasionally found on other small metal objects such as belt mounts and buckles. Part of a buckle plate engraved with a chalice is listed on the Portable Antiquities Database (Unique ID: LIN-6900DC). Other examples include Colkirk, Norfolk (HER 37130), Mileham, Norfolk (HER7270, NMS-465D84), Gayton, Norfolk (NMS-9E2717).
Subjects depicted
Summary
This ring would have been used as a signet, pressed into hot wax to seal a letter or packet. Personal seals (secreta) provided an essential legal safeguard and were used to witness documents such as wills, deeds of gift, loans and commercial documents, personal letters and land indentures. A letter from Lord Berengario in Verona in 906 underscores the importance of the signet:



‘So that this may be more truly believed and more faithfully observed, we order this to be sealed with our ring, confirming it with our own hand’.



Signets could be engraved with a coat of arms for those entitled to bear them, with a personal device or simply with an initial letter. The bezel of this ring is engraved with a chalice, used in the Christian mass to hold communion wine, and with a communion wafer. The inscription 'ana maria' (or possibly 'ave maria' - Hail Mary) inside the hoop may refer to the Virgin Mary and her mother Anne. The ring may therefore have belonged to a priest or other church figure.



The Tau crosses on the shoulders of this ring are an ancient Christian symbol, possibly derived from the Egyptian ankh. It is the symbol of St Anthony Abbot, an Egyptian hermit and swineherd of the third century AD. The Tau cross is said to represent the crutch which he used to control his herd. The resemblance of the Tau to a cross led to it being ascribed a mystical significance. St Anthony was believed to cure ergotism, or St Anthony's fire (a neurological illness caused by the ergot fungus which can grow on mouldy rye grain) and to protect the faithful against pestilence and poisoning. He was the patron saint of the poor and sick and of knights, butchers and brushmakers. A ring bearing the symbol of St Anthony would confer the protection of the saint on the wearer.



Bibliographic references
  • Oates, Frederick Arthur Harman Catalogue of finger rings brought together by F.A. Harman Oates, F.S.A. , 1917, plate II
  • Oman, Charles, Catalogue of rings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1930, reprinted Ipswich, 1993, cat. 547
Collection
Accession number
M.9-1929

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

Record createdFebruary 13, 2006
Record URL
Download as: JSONIIIF Manifest