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Fede ring

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver, engraved

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10a, The Françoise and Georges Selz Gallery, case 4

This ring combines the ancient fede( faith ) motif of two hands clasped together, with another motif depicting two hands holding a heart.These symbols signified love and fidelity. It is likely that this ring was a love token, representing everlasting love, or perhaps a betrothal ring. Fede rings were made all over Europe in the Middle Ages.

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

Silver ring, with two bezels, one a fede and the other two hands clasping a heart

Place of Origin

Italy (possibly, made)


15th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Silver, engraved


Height: 1.2 cm, Width: 2.5 cm, Depth: 2.7 cm, Diameter: 2 cm Internal

Object history note

From the Waterton collection: acquired by Edmund Waterton in Rome in 1857. Recorded in the 'Dactyliotheca' as 15th century

Sumptuary Laws

Jewellery was worn by men and women as a symbol of wealth and status. In the 14th and 15th centuries however, sumptuary laws were introduced to regulate and reduce the amount and type of jewellery worn by the public. In France in 1285 laws sought to forbid townspeople and their ladies from wearing precious stones, belts of gold and gold coronets. In 1363, English law attempted to limit the wearing of gold and silver to richer noblemen. There is little evidence to suggest that these laws were heeded, although the survival of base metal jewellery suggests that the less wealthy tried to find alternatives to silver and gold to display their status.

Historical significance: This ring is an example of a fede ring which was derived from an ancient Roman motif. Fede rings reappeared in the 12th century and became a popular motif in both northern and southern Europe.

Historical context note

Fede rings (from the Italian word ‘trust’) were derived from the ancient Roman device of two hands clasped together as a pledge of plighted troth. Such rings were often used in the Medieval period as wedding rings or as symbols of faithful love. This ring combines the fede motif with two hands clasping a heart, making it clear it was intended as a love token or wedding ring.

Romance Tradition

Gift giving was a strong theme in medieval romance literature. Knights and ladies gave rings, brooches and belts as a means of communicating love and affection. Such presents were then worn by the receiver as symbols of love or loyalty. In the 12th century Marie de France explained the gift giving process in her lais Eliduc.

'If you love him...send him a girdle, a ribbon or a ring, for this will please him. If he receives it gladly... then you will be sure of his love.'
The Lais of Marie de France, Glynn S Burgess and Keith Busby (trans), London, Penguin Classics, 1986, p.115

The romance writers acknowledged the possibility of misreading the symbolism of rings and other tokens. A ring given as a symbol of love may be worn by the receiver as a symbol of loyalty. This ambiguity noted in the romances seems to reflect the many purposes for which rings and other such tokens were given and the varying reasons for which they were worn.

Medieval Marriage

During the Middle Ages, a marriage ceremony could take place anywhere. It was not a religious tradition, but rather a secular practice. Weddings were sometimes conducted in the home,or in the doorway of a church or in secret. Clandestine marriages (ceremonies without any witnesses) were illegal yet valid in the Medieval period. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) decreed that wedding ceremonies must take place before a priest and two witnesses in order to be valid. From this point on marriage became more closely linked with the church although clandestine and private marriages continued to take place.

Rings were used in the medieval period as symbols of love and commitment in marriage. Isidore of Seville (d.636) explained that a ring should be placed upon the fourth finger of the bride’s right hand, as the vein in this arm flowed straight to the heart. 13th and 14th century manuscript illuminations depict the exchange of rings as a symbol of marriage or faithful love. In the 15th century, gem rings, especially diamond rings, were popularly used in the marriage ceremony by those who could afford them.

Descriptive line

Silver ring, with two bezels, one a fede and the other two hands clasping a heart, Italy, 15th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bury, Shirley, Rings, HMSO, 1984
Ward, Anne, Cherry, John, Gere, Charlotte, Cartlidge, Barbara, The Ring: From Antiquity to the Twentieth Century, Thames and Hudson, London, 1981
Taylor, Gerald, Scarisbrick, Diana, Finger Rings: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day, Lund Humphries, London, 1978
Scarisbrick, Diana, Rings: Symbols of Wealth and Power, Thames and Hudson, London, 1993
Oman, Charles, British Rings 800-1914, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1974
Campbell, Marian, Medieval Jewellery in Europe 1100-1500 ,London 2009, pp. 95-6
Ajmar-Wollheim, Marta and Dennis, Flora At Home in Renaissance Italy, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2006, cat. 147, p 110 and 361
Mills, Rosie, Object lesson in V&A Magazine, Spring 2011, p. 96
Church, Rachel, Rings, London, V&A Publishing, 2011, p.18, fig, 12
Waterton, Edmund Dactyliotheca Watertoniana: a descriptive catalogue of the finger-rings in the collection of Mrs Waterton, (manuscript, 1866, now in National Art Library), p. 105. cat. 8


Engraving (incising)

Subjects depicted

Hands; Hearts (motifs)


Jewellery; Metalwork; Europeana Fashion Project


Metalwork Collection

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