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

Signet Ring

1275-1300 (made), 1200-1275 (intaglio)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Rings are the most commonly surviving medieval jewels. They were worn by both sexes, across all levels of society. Some portraits show wearers with multiple rings across all their fingers. Although rings were worn for decoration, they also had important practical functions. Signet rings such as this one were pressed into sealing wax to create a unique, legally recognised signature. 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.

The inscription * IOHANNES: EST: NOMEN: EIVS engraved around the sard intaglio is taken from the Vulgate Bible (Luke, I, 6, 3), referring to the naming of John the Baptist, but probably also refers to the name of the ring's first owner. The engraved male head references earlier classical intaglios but was probably made in the 13th century, possibly imported to England from France or Italy.

This ring was formerly part of the collection of Dame Joan Evans (1893-1977), art historian and collector. Early on she collected gems and jewels which resulted in the 1921 book, English Jewellery from the 5th Century BC to 1800. She published widely on jewellery, French medieval art and architecture. Evans was elected the first woman president of the Society of Antiquaries in 1959 (through 1964). She was a trustee of the British Museum (1963-67). In her personal life, she donated time and money to many charitable historic causes, nearly all of them anonymously. Her will left collections to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the Birmingham City Art Gallery.

She gave her gem and jewellery collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum through a series of gifts, beginning in 1960. Her association with the museum went back to her childhood and she developed personal friendships with the museum curators and Directors. In 1965, after looking through her jewels with curator Charles Oman and discussing the gift to the V&A, she wrote that: ‘I never expected to feel like a millionaire, but I did today and it was a real creative pleasure to see how my bits and pieces fitted into your great collection to make the best conspectus of jewels I have ever seen. I don’t exaggerate my part; at least I know enough for that. But it’s the fitting in that gave me such surprise and pleasure. I bought better than I knew.’

In 1975, two years before her death aged 84, Joan Evans made over her remaining jewels to the museum, choosing to remain anonymous during her lifetime. As she wrote jokingly to Charles Oman, her village was ‘divided into those who think it must have been me and those who say it cannot have been because I am so shabby.’

In her final years, offering her collection to the museum, she wrote movingly that ‘My jewels come to your Department with love and gratitude. It has been kind to me for 65 years.’


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Gold, engraved; sard, carved
Brief description
Gold signet ring set with a sard intaglio of a male head in profile and inscribed in lombardic lettering around the edge of the bezel: * IOHANNES: EST: NOMEN: EIVS ('John is his name'). England, 1200-1300.
Physical description
Signet ring, gold, set with a sard intaglio. The oval bezel set with a sard intaglio of a man's head in profile, and is a medieval copy of a classical original. Inscribed in lombardic lettering around the edge of the bezel * IOHANNES: EST: NOMEN: EIVS (John is his name)
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.4cm
  • Width: 2.3cm
  • Depth: 1.9cm
Marks and inscriptions
* IOHANNES: EST: NOMEN: EIVS (Around the edge of the bezel, engraved inscription in lombardic lettering)
Credit line
Given by Dame Joan Evans
Object history
Philip Nelson Collection, acquired by Dame Joan Evans.



Almost the same inscription can be seen on a silver seal matrix set with a banded agate intaglio which was found at Wargrave, near Wokingham, Berkshire (Portable Antiquities Scheme SUR-06081D) and is now in the British Museum.
Production
The intaglio possibly imported from Italy or France
Subject depicted
Association
Summary
Rings are the most commonly surviving medieval jewels. They were worn by both sexes, across all levels of society. Some portraits show wearers with multiple rings across all their fingers. Although rings were worn for decoration, they also had important practical functions. Signet rings such as this one were pressed into sealing wax to create a unique, legally recognised signature. 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.



The inscription * IOHANNES: EST: NOMEN: EIVS engraved around the sard intaglio is taken from the Vulgate Bible (Luke, I, 6, 3), referring to the naming of John the Baptist, but probably also refers to the name of the ring's first owner. The engraved male head references earlier classical intaglios but was probably made in the 13th century, possibly imported to England from France or Italy.



This ring was formerly part of the collection of Dame Joan Evans (1893-1977), art historian and collector. Early on she collected gems and jewels which resulted in the 1921 book, English Jewellery from the 5th Century BC to 1800. She published widely on jewellery, French medieval art and architecture. Evans was elected the first woman president of the Society of Antiquaries in 1959 (through 1964). She was a trustee of the British Museum (1963-67). In her personal life, she donated time and money to many charitable historic causes, nearly all of them anonymously. Her will left collections to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the Birmingham City Art Gallery.



She gave her gem and jewellery collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum through a series of gifts, beginning in 1960. Her association with the museum went back to her childhood and she developed personal friendships with the museum curators and Directors. In 1965, after looking through her jewels with curator Charles Oman and discussing the gift to the V&A, she wrote that: ‘I never expected to feel like a millionaire, but I did today and it was a real creative pleasure to see how my bits and pieces fitted into your great collection to make the best conspectus of jewels I have ever seen. I don’t exaggerate my part; at least I know enough for that. But it’s the fitting in that gave me such surprise and pleasure. I bought better than I knew.’



In 1975, two years before her death aged 84, Joan Evans made over her remaining jewels to the museum, choosing to remain anonymous during her lifetime. As she wrote jokingly to Charles Oman, her village was ‘divided into those who think it must have been me and those who say it cannot have been because I am so shabby.’



In her final years, offering her collection to the museum, she wrote movingly that ‘My jewels come to your Department with love and gratitude. It has been kind to me for 65 years.’

Bibliographic references
  • Alexander, Jonathan, and Paul Binski (eds.), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987.
  • Oman, Charles, British Rings:800-1914, London, 1974, p. 29 and pl. 36B
Collection
Accession number
M.290-1962

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Record createdFebruary 15, 2006
Record URL
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