Ring (1)


The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The figures of saints engraved on the bezel of this ring and the words ‘en bon an’ inscribed inside the hoop show a combination of medieval piety and social obligation. St Margaret, standing on the dragon she defeated and St Catherine, two of the most popular medieval saints flank God the Father holding the crucified Christ in a pose known as the ‘Throne of Pity’ or ‘Seat of Mercy’. The dove of the Holy Spirit completes the Trinity. St Margaret was thought to offer protection to pregnant women as her triumph over the dragon mirrored the dangers present for women in childbirth. In 1441, the English gentlewoman Margaret Paston who was then pregnant, sent a ring with an image of her patron saint St Margaret to her husband ‘for a remembrance till ye come home’.

Rings engraved with figures of saints have become known as 'iconographic' rings. They seem to have been a particularly British type and sometimes combine religious imagery with romantic posies. They 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 particular saint or the desire to invoke that saint's help with a particular matter. St Christopher was believed to protect the soul of the wearer from the dangers of purgatory which might follow sudden death as well as offering help to travellers.

‘En bon an’ which could be translated as ‘a good or happy New Year’ indicates that this ring was probably a New Year’s gift. Gifts were exchanged at all levels of society, the value being carefully matched to the recipient’s status. Jewellery and gems were frequently given. In 1429, Alice de Bryne, a gentlewoman, commissioned a gold badge worth 13s, two gold rings at 7s 6d and another for 5s probably for New Year gifts.

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  • Title: Ring (1)
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1400/1500
  • Location: England
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 2 cm, Width: 2 cm, Depth: 1 cm
  • Provenance: Given by Dame Joan Evans
  • Medium: Engraved gold

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