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Towards an Art History of Medieval Rings

Towards an Art History of Medieval Rings


There is a long tradition of collecting rings dating back to the 17th century when their significance was first appreciated in Europe although their use and manufacture dates back to antiquity.  Well-known collections were made by enthusiasts as diverse as the French aristocrat Baron Jérôme Davillier (1815-1890), whose collection included the ring of the Black Prince found in the ruins of the Castle of Montpensier in 1866, and C. D. Fortnum (1820-1899) whose income came from the famous grocery store in Piccadilly.  Rings can take us back through time, illuminating vanished worlds and bringing their former owners back to life. 


Some rings are intensely personal, particularly wedding and mourning rings, while others denote the status of their owners: monarchs, nobles, those high in the hierarchy of the church and rich merchants, amongst others.

Toward an Art History of Medieval Rings gives a full survey of Merovingian, Byzantine, Medieval and Renaissance rings, building on the basis of a private collection of 35 rings assembled over nearly two decades.  These rings range in date from around 300 to 1600 AD and are fine examples of most of the major types of ring created during this period.  They include marriage rings, seal rings, stirrup rings, tart mould rings, iconographic rings, merchant rings and gemstone rings and are arranged chronologically in the book.   Sandra Hindman describes each ring, placing it in its art historical context often with comparisons with works of art in other media and also with rings in major public collections. Ilaria Fatone discusses the provenance, exhibitions and bibliographies of each ring and there is also a technical section by conservator Angélique Laurent-Di Mantova who studies each ring, its material, fabrication, and use. 

Collecting rings has always been stimulated by new discoveries and in recent years the use of the metal detector has brought to light some exceptional medieval rings.  As Diana Scarisbrick says in her introduction to this book: “Each of the rings recorded in this catalogue, which meant so much to their original owners and, given the odds, whose survival is miraculous, should go on to give aesthetic and intellectual pleasure to today’s collectors.”

  • Diana Scarisbrick, et al.

    Diana Scarisbrick, Sandra Hindman, Ilaria Fatone and Agelique Laurent di Mantova


    250 x 155 mm, 260 pages 

    paperback, 125 colour illustrations
    ISBN: 978 1 903470 64 0

  • About the authors

    Diana SCARISBRICK is a renowned historian of jewellery who has published numerous books on rings, among which are (with G. Taylor), Finger Rings from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day (London and Oxford, 1978); Rings: Symbols of Wealth, Power, and Affection (London, 1993)); (with M. Henig), Finger rings from Ancient to Modern [Ashmolean handbooks] (Oxford, 2003); Historic Rings: Four Thousands Years of Craftsmanship, (Tokyo 2004).


    Sandra HINDMAN is Professor Emerita of Art History at Northwestern University and owner, Les Enluminures, Chicago and Paris, and has written numerous books and articles on medieval manuscript illumination.


    Ilaria FATONE holds degrees in Art History from the University of Milan and the University of Bocconi and is the director of Les Enluminures.


    Angelique LAURENT-DI MANTOVA is a freelance conservator who has worked for the Musée du Louvre, the Musée Guimet, the Musée d’Orsay, the Petit Palais, and elsewhere, and has published widely (most recently Trésors Antiques, bijoux de la collection Campana, Paris, 2005).

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