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Ring

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved silver gilt, formerly enamelled

  • Museum number:

    681-1871

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Silver or gold 'iconographic' rings engraved with the figures of saints were particularly common in the 14th and 15th century and seem to have been a largely British type. The religious imagery was often combined with romantic inscriptions suggesting that they may sometimes have been used as love gifts or wedding rings. In 1463, John Baret of Bury St Edmunds bequeathed to 'Elizabeth .. my wyf a ryng of golde with an ymage of the Trinite' (Bury Wills, p. 36). They often feature the most venerated saints of the middle ages: Sts Christopher, Catherine, Margaret, Barbara, John the Baptist. The choice of saint was probably dictated by local loyalties, membership of confraternities devoted to a saint or the desire to invoke that saint's help in a particular matter.

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.

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 gilt ring, with traces of enamel depicting St. John the Baptist, St. Barbara, and another saint, with Tau crosses on the shoulders

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

15th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Engraved silver gilt, formerly enamelled

Dimensions

Height: 2.1 cm, Width: 2.2 cm, Depth: 1.1 cm

Object history note

ex Waterton Collection

Descriptive line

Silver gilt ring, with traces of enamel depicting St. John the Baptist, St. Barbara, and another saint, with Tau crosses on the shoulders, England, 15th century

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

Bury, Shirley, Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982), 33/A/29
Oman, Charles, Catalogue of rings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1930, reprinted Ipswich, 1993, p.111, cat. 724
'British Guiana 2426 (Walton Hall)', Legacies of British Slave-ownership database, http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/claim/view/7157 [accessed 28th May 2019].

Materials

Silver

Techniques

Gilding

Subjects depicted

Saints; Tau crosses

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Christianity

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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