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  • Place of origin:

    Italy (north, made)
    Roman Empire (made)

  • Date:

    1400-1425 (made)
    200 BC-100 BC (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved silver with ribbon onyx intaglio

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Jewellery in the middle ages had practical, protective applications as well as being valued for personal decoration and to mark status and wealth. Particular types of stone were thought to protect against specific ailments or threats, ranging from toothache to the evil eye. They could also encourage characteristics as bravery or banish others such as melancholy This scorpion intaglio dates from the 2nd or 1st century BC but has been reused in a medieval ring. Carved Greek or Roman stones were highly valued in the middle ages. They were found in excavations or in surviving earlier pieces of jewellery and traded across Europe. The scorpion had an enduring reputation as a protective amulet. It was believed to heal patients from poisoning and also, as symbol of the Zodiac sign Scorpio, it was associated with water and therefore believed to have a cooling effect on fever.

Remedies against poisoning were also made by infusing scorpions in oil and herbs. The Medici Grand Duke Francesco I (d. 1587) published a recipe for an anti-poison oil effective against 'all sorts of poisons ingested by mouth, stings and bites'.

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, the oval bezel engraved with an indecipherable inscription and set with a ribbon onyx intaglio of a scorpion.

Place of Origin

Italy (north, made)
Roman Empire (made)


1400-1425 (made)
200 BC-100 BC (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved silver with ribbon onyx intaglio


Height: 1.6 cm, Width: 1.9 cm, Depth: 2.2 cm, Diameter: 1.8 cm

Object history note

Formerly in the Waterton Collection

Historical context note

This ring would have been worn not just for adornment but specifically for protection.Onyx was believed to excite wrath, boldness and daring in the wearer. Intaglios depicting a scorpion were popularly believed in the Middle Ages to give protection against fevers.

Descriptive line

Silver ring, the oval bezel engraved and set with an antique Roman ribbon onyx intaglio of a scorpion (200-100 BC), made in Northern Italy, 1400-1425

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

Ajmar-Wollheim, Marta and Flora Dennis (eds.). At Home in Renaissance Italy. London: V&A, 2006. p. 187, 198.
Bury, Shirley. Jewellery Gallery: summary catalogue. 1982. p.189.
del Sotto, I. Le Lapidaire du Quatorzième Siecle: description des pierres precieuses et de leurs vertus magiques, d'après le traité du Chevalier Jean de Mandeville. Vienna, 1862.
Evans, Joan. Magical Jewels. 1922.
Oman, Charles. Catalogue of Rings, London, 1930, no. 584, pp.97-98.
Wheeler, Jo Renaissance secrets, recipes and formulas . London: V&A, 2009, pp 76-77
Catalogued by the Campbell-Bonner magical gems database (classics.mfab.hu/talismans/cbd/2682 ), database ID CBd-2916
Sophie Page and Marina Wallace, Spellbound: magic, ritual and witchcraft, Ashmolean, 2018, p. 42, fig. 32

Production Note

The intaglio is Ionic or Etruscan, 200-100 BC.


Silver; Onyx


Engraving (incising); Intaglio

Subjects depicted



Jewellery; Metalwork; Europeana Fashion Project


Metalwork Collection

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