My book collection #1: ‘Toward an Art History of Medieval Rings: A Private Collection’

2 07 2010

Having finished the series of posts about my jewellery collection, pending any further future additions, I was wondering what my next ‘series’ could be. On a recent sunny but cold Sunday afternoon I was sitting in the sunshine in my lounge flicking through one of my favourite jewellery books, and struck upon an idea: ‘my book collection’.

I don’t expect this series to be in any particular order, not chronological or alphabetic (though that was tempting to the obsessive in me!) … just as the whim takes me.

My book collection #1
Toward an Art History of Medieval Rings: A Private Collection
Sandra Hindman with Ilaria Fatone and Angelique Laurent-di Mantova; introduction Diana Scarisbrick; 2007; Paul Holberton publishing, London
ISBN: 978 1 903470 64 0

scanned book cover; book designed by Virginie Enl'art; photographs by Alexandre Kobbeh

I remember purchasing this modest-sized book about a year ago at a local bookstore – I instinctively picked it up, the cover design attracted me initially and of course the subject was irresistible; I continued to wander about the store looking at other titles, this book in hand, absent-mindedly stroking the beautiful cover. The connection was immediate and it was clear it was coming home with me.

The fly cover states: “This book presents 35 medieval and Renaissance rings in a private collection. Dating between approximately 300 C.E. and 1600 C.E., these rings, assembled over nearly two decades, represent fine examples of most of the major types of rings created during this time period in Western Europe and Byzantium…

The subject collection is that of Sandra Hindman [link to the gallery she is directory of in Paris]. In the brief preface of this book she notes that when she studied medieval art “there was very little written on what might be termed an “art history of the ring”. … much on the symbolism of the ring, the wearing of rings, collections of rings, gemstones and their meaning, but virtually nothing that situated rings in the major movements of medieval artand the intent of this book wasto correct that gap in the literaturethough she admits much remains to be done“.

The introduction ‘Collecting Rings‘ by Diana Scarisbrick is a fascinating history of the collector, who in one passage she describes as one who “recognised the value small objects in illustrating the lives of our ancestors“.

In the body of the book at least four pages are dedicated to each of the thirty-five rings, ordered chronologically into four groups: Byzantine & Early Christian, Early Medieval, Gothic and Renaissance.

The second (facing) page for each piece has photographs with at least two perspectives of each ring; though sometimes the design on this page can be a little busy. The accompanying text describes the piece, its origin and construction history, the context of the iconography and design and other artworks of its period, and the place of this ring among its contemporaries. Additionally there are often images of similar rings or other artworks referred to in the text, which helps in contextualising and understanding the relationships.

My favourite reference is to connect a Viking braided ring to a passage in Beowulf and the Book of Kells (p92-3). My new favourite type of ring is the ‘tart mold’ or ‘pie-dish’ ring. The ring I learnt most from seeing is the Renaissance Cusped Ring from 15th century, which has a bezel / collet that I’ve been admiring in portraits from the period for years now, and I’m so glad to see a beautiful example in detail (I hadn’t previously been able to figure out the construction from oil paintings, like those by Bruges and those I saw at the Thyssen Bornemisza).

At the back of the book there is a Catalogue with a technical description and comparisons listing for each piece. In parts this does repeat some points made in the main text, but mostly it is new information (especially in the Technical parts).

I love this book (obviously) and it would be a great source book for researchers and artists most interested in the middle and medieval periods and techniques.

As a post-script, the gallery the collection owner directs has a special website for the medieval rings they have sourced and make available for purchase. It’s strange though – this link worked a few days ago, but now has a message that it’s ‘under construction’, so hopefully it will be working again soon, for the inventory is magnificent. I didn’t know where one would go to buy such treasures, but now do!


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