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Signet ring

  • Place of origin:

    Roman Empire (made)

  • Date:

    100-200 AD (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved bronze

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mr Harold Wallis from the Henry Wallis Collection

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 4, shelf A, box 26

This bronze ring is set with a comic mask.
Tragic and comic masks were used by Greek actors. By the fifth century BC, standard mask forms became common for specific roles, with the particular features of each reflecting the character of the figure being played. The mask usually has exaggerated facial features that compensated for the fact that the actor's own expressions could not be seen.
These types of masks were commonly found in Greece and later in Rome as architectural ornaments, or as terracottas placed in tombs as offerings. In Rome, masks ornaments were found in the villas and gardens of wealthy Romans, where they probably evoked an atmosphere of Greek culture and proclaimed the sophistication of the owners.
There are many known examples of rings with bezels in the shape of a mask or with a mask engraved or carved on it. Their meaning is not entirely clear today. They were probably not purely decorative or just evocative of the Greek culture. They could have belonged to an actor, or to a keen theatre goer. The owner could also have chosen a particular mask and character according to his own personality. They could also have been used to protect the wearer from the evil eye. The ugliness of the face and the wince had an apotropaic function.

ALthough gold and silver were the most prized metals for jewellery, bronze - a copper and tin alloy - was also used as a cheaper alternative.

Physical description

Bronze signet ring, the hoop set with a comic mask

Place of Origin

Roman Empire (made)


100-200 AD (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved bronze


Height: 1.8 cm, Width: 1.7 cm, Depth: 0.7 cm

Descriptive line

Bronze ring, the hoop set with a comic mask, Roman Empire, 100-200 AD



Subjects depicted

Masks (costume); Comedy


Jewellery; Metalwork


Metalwork Collection

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