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THE splendor-loving sixteenth century far surpassed the Middle Ages in the use of the finger rings. No other ornament of the Renaissance attained such richness and profusion. In sixteenth and seventeenth century portraits rings are represented in such quantities that the hands appear overburdened with them; while the number entered in the old inventories is astounding.
Yet it is well to remember that the word ring, was a general term for all pendent jewels—though not infrequently a distinction in the lists is drawn between ring, earring and pendant. The extraordinary abundance of finger rings in use at the time may best be judged by a list in the inventory of Henry VIII of the year 1530, which contains no less than 234. Of the large number of Renaissance rings that have survived, most are of a purely ornamental character; and though many others are of interest on account of their emblematic or historical associations, those which display artistic work require the chief consideration.
Out of all the rings that simply served the purpose of decoration, there are very few whose nationality can be easily determined. If it is difficult in the case of pendants and similar ornaments to come to a decision with regard to the question of provenance, it is even more so where rings are concerned.
Pictures of the period, as has been said, represent persons with their hands heavily loaded with rings, which are worn upon all the fingers, the thumb included. Every finger-joint up to the very nail is covered with them, and they are worn, as by the ancient Romans, even upon the knuckles. The great projection of the rings’ bezels would have rendered the use of gloves impossible, were it not, as we know from pictures, for the custom of placing the rings outside the gloves, and also for the somewhat ugly fashion of slitting the fingers of the gloves, in order that they might be worn with greater comfort, and allow the rings themselves to be displayed.
In a portrait of a lady by Lucas Cranach in the National Gallery, rings are worn both over and beneath the gloves, every finger and the thumbs having two or three. The rings under the gloves appear on the top of the second knuckle of every finger, and are visible through the marks made in the gloves at these points. In other pictures by this artist, such as that entitled ” Judith ” at Vienna, and in the works of his contemporaries in Germany, the same slashed gloves are to be seen. Men’s gloves, too, like their doublets, were slashed.
A signet ring of Bristol diamond is revealed through the cut in his glove to show his pride, That his trim jewel might be better viewed. The tendency of placing the stone in a very high bezel was a tradition from the Middle Ages, where a preference had always been shown for the stone being so set.
The ornamental rings of the Renaissance 1 followed a uniform outline as far as their bezels and settings were concerned. They contained, as a rule, one stone only, backed by foil and set in a boxlike Colette, square and pyramidal, and closed behind. The gold was rubbed over the setting edge of the stone, and the four side surfaces then decorated in a variety of ways by the application of enamel, and sometimes overlaid with an additional ornamentation in imitation of claws.
The stone itself, usually table-cut, was frequently a ruby. One peculiar variety of ring, known from the early part of the fifteenth century, is deserving of note. Its design was founded upon the natural shape of the diamond, and was distinguished by a very high bezel, which received one half of the shape and allowed the other to project upwards. Rings set thus with pointed diamonds were in high favor until the middle of the seventeenth century, and were employed for writing upon glass—a practice
which appears to have been much in vogue.
Several old portraits exhibit rings strung upon men’s necklaces, or hung from a thin cord round the neck. A portrait in the Berlin Gallery, shows a ring worn thus, and in two portraits by Lucas Cranach— representing Johann Fried-rich of Saxony attired as a bridegroom, and the other at Dresden, of the Elector Johann the Constant of Saxony (1526)—rings are hung similarly round the neck. Rings were also worn in the hat. A round the cap is fixed a thin wire-shaped band of gold, with a strip of cloth wound spirally round it. The latter serves to fix at regular intervals four gold rings, three of them set with cabochon stones and the fourth with a pointed diamond. A similar kind of decoration is alluded to where a servant is mentioned carrying” to a maiden an enameled posy ring which his master had worn sewn upon his hat. The rings worn thus were in many cases betrothal or engagement rings ; but those that served this purpose generally assumed special forms, and were among the most ingenious productions of the time. They were composed of twin or double hoops. The outer side of the two hoops was convex and elaborately ornamented, while the inner side was flat and often bore some inscription.
The two hoops were wrought so exactly alike, that, together with the stones, they appeared to be one ring yet could be separated, and the one hung from the other. Their bezels were occasionally formed of clasped hands. Ordinary one-hoop rings also bore the same design. Another kind of betrothal or engagement ring was the “posy” ring, generally of simple form, with a verse, a name, or a motto engraved inside it. The posy ring, suitably inscribed, was also used as a wedding-ring. The simple posy ring belongs, however, chiefly to the seventeenth century. The elaborate betrothal ring seems to have been employed at this time as a wedding-ring as well. It was reserved for modern times to give the wedding-ring its smooth, convenient, but artistically unimportant form. Widely distributed among the North German peasantry are certain peculiar wedding-rings, which, as a rule, contain a couple of the heart-shaped milk-teeth of the young roe-buck, with a small lock from which hang two keys—a symbol which perhaps not inaptly indicates the union of two pure hearts.
Dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but wholly different from the Renaissance form of ring, and very large and elaborate, are the Jewish wedding-rings, which were used only at the ceremony and then preserved by the family. They are composed of a broad band adorned with filigree (probably in keeping with some ancient Oriental tradition) arranged in bosses and rosettes and enriched with light blue, light green, and other enamel. In place of a bezel there is often the model of a building with high gabled roofs and enameled tiles, pierced by windows, and having movable weathercocks on the apex; an inscription in Hebrew characters on the shank contains the motto ” Good star.”
It was the custom to arrange finger rings upon a rod when not in use or when exposed for exhibition in the jeweler’s shop, and in paintings it is no uncommon thing to see a line of rings of various patterns what appears to be a roll of parchment.
In Henry VIII’s inventory of 1527 we find: “Upon a finger-stall, seven rings, one a ruby, another an emerald, and a turquoise, another a table diamond, another a triangular diamond, another a rocky diamond”; also in 1530: “A roll with thirty-nine Paris rings, with small stones.”
In the Duke of Newcastle’s comedy mention is made of an extravagant person “who makes his fingers like jewelers’ cards to set rings upon.” In Munich, is a most interesting picture by Paris Bordone representing a jeweler with a quantity of his treasures lying on a table before him. Every item is painted with extreme care. Twelve massive finger rings, arranged in three rows of four, are displayed in an oblong ring-box, just in the same manner as one might expect to find them in a jeweler’s shop of the present day. A somewhat similar picture by Lorenzo Lotto, in the Kaufmann Collection in Berlin, represents a jeweler holding in his left hand a box full of rings and in his right a single specimen.
By far the most attractive of the fine engravings of jewelry by Pierre Woeiriot of Lorraine is his beautiful set of rings. M. Foulc, of Paris, is generally credited with the possession of the only complete set of these engravings. A perfect specimen of the work is, however, preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, to which it was bequeathed by the well-known antiquary Francis Douce in 1834. It comprises forty plates, each containing one or more rings to the number of ninety-six, and furnishes striking examples of the taste and inventive genius then bestowed on these minute objects.
Nevertheless, engravings can convey but small idea of the color effect, and the wonderful charm that the actual rings possess. In order to fully appreciate them, one must visit the three great English collections of them now accessible to the public: the South Kensington Collection, containing the greater part of that formed by Edmund Waterton ; the Drury Fortnum Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford ; and above all, the collection in the British Museum, which includes the splendid series bequeathed by Sir A. W. Franks, in which were absorbed the Braybrooke, Londesborough, and some minor cabinets, together with the best from the Soden Smith Collection, as well as the choicest from the Pichon and from many foreign sales.
The bracelet during this period plays ‘a scarcely more prominent part than it did in the Middle Ages, and probably owing to the same reason ; for in Renaissance times the fashion of leaving the arms bare was not in favor, and the long sleeves that fell over the hand were retained. A few examples presented by pictures lead to the supposition that bracelets consisted of beads of amber or jet separated by balls of gold, or of rows of cameos.
Catarina Cornaro in her portrait by Titian in the Uffizi wears a bracelet upon her wrist over the sleeve, while the portrait of a lady by Cranach in the National Gallery shows that the sleeves were occasionally slashed at the wrists to exhibit the bracelets beneath them, just as were the fingers of gloves for the purpose of displaying rings. Inventories supply a certain amount of information concerning bracelets. Henry VIII in1530 possessed seventeen, including one of “Paris work, one with eight diamonds, eight rubies, fourteen pearls, and a diamond rose.”
Elizabeth received a large number of bracelets among her New Year’s gifts. In the inventory of Mary Stuart’s jewels are ” Others are formed, as were necklaces, of beads of filigree enclosing perfumes: “References to bracelets by writers of the period show-that they were not infrequently worn as love tokens. Thus in Beaumont and Fletcher’s Cupids Revenge :— Given ear-rings we will wear Bracelets of our lovers’ hair, Which they on our arms shall twist With our names carved on our wrist.
Contemporary designs prove that bracelets followed the same elaborate forms as other articles of jewelry, as may be seen from the engraved designs of Ducerceau, and the Livre de Bijouterie of Rene Boyvin of Angers (1530-1598). One of the most interesting bracelets—as far as actual specimens are concerned—is preserved at Berkeley Castle among the heirlooms bequeathed by George Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who died in 1603. It is of crystal and gold, 31 inches in diameter. The crystal, a complete circlet overlaid with open-work gold, is encrusted all round with rubies, and has at intervals four clusters of rubies around a sapphire.
It is somewhat difficult to arrive at a decision as to the origin of this remarkable object. It seems to bear traces of Oriental influence in the setting of the stones, though the gold work is of different quality from what one would expect to find in Indian work. If, like the jewel at Berkeley, this armlet is to be associated with Sir Francis Drake, it may well have been obtained by him as part of some Spanish spoil, in like manner to the ” crystal bracelet set in gold” procured by Sir Matthew Morgan at the capture of Cadiz in 1596— Cadiz being then the staple town for all the trades of the Levant and of the Indies. Bracelets formed of cameos are met with sometimes on portraits.
A pair of bracelets formed each of seven oval shell cameos representing figures of animals, enclosed in gold mounting enriched with blue enamel, and hinged together by a double chain ornamented with rosettes enameled green. On the under side of the larger cameos which form the clasps are two interlacing C’s within a wreath of palm and olive, enameled green, and a barred S in blue enamel at each angle. These bracelets, of which the cameos as well as the mountings are of fine sixteenth-century work, have been traditionally associated with Diana of Poitiers. But the interlaced C’s, according to M. Babelon, are in all probability the initials of some lady of the family of Harlay, from whom the bracelets were acquired. Bracelets, like necklaces, were not infrequently composed entirely of gold, with interwoven links, like mail-chains.
RENAISSANCE BUTTONS fluted links, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Its clasp is enriched with a floral pattern in translucent enamel. Three similar bracelets forming part of the Holtzendorff treasure from Pinnow (Ucker-Mark,N. Germany) are in the Germanic Museum, Nuremberg. They are composed of circular links, and have flat clasps like the bracelet just mentioned, ornamented with coats of arms in enamel.
One of the most important of ornaments throughout the Middle Ages was the brooch ; but towards the end of the fifteenth century the mode of wearing garments changed, and brooches disappeared little by little, till in Renaissance times they were rarely employed, except as ornaments for the hat. It is true that sixteenth-century inventories contain an immense number of brooches—Henry VIII had no less than 324—but nearly all these, the larger ones especially, were worn as enseignes upon the hat; while the smaller were employed not as dress fasteners, but simply as ornaments sewn or pinned at regular intervals upon the front of the dress or the borders of the sleeves.
A single elaborate jeweled brooch is sometimes seen in pictures attached to the upper part of the sleeve. We see it thus on the figure of Arithmetic in a famous fresco of the Vatican, and later in English pictures, notably the well-known painting in Sherborne Castle, Dorset, representing Queen Elizabeth’s procession.
The ladies of her retinue have jewels fastened to the sleeves of their right arms. The garments of this period were not fastened by means of brooches, but were closed with buttons or points, or with hooks and eyes. Sleeves were often held on by buttons to which the sleeve-loops or points were tied, while other portions of the clothing, especially if of leather and cumbersome to button, were secured with loops or hooks and eyes.
The slashing of the dress were sometimes closed by buttons or pompoms formed of stones surrounded by pearls. Similar button-like ornaments, jeweled and richly enameled, of which examples exist, were worn in rows all over the dress, but their delicate form and often irregular shape exclude the supposition that they were used as actual buttons. Of ornaments of this kind Mary Queen of Scots possessed a large number.
These individual jeweled ornaments, which it was the practice to sew on the dress at regular intervals by way of trimming, may be treated as distinct from ornamentation which formed part of the actual costume, such as masses of pearls and precious stones, with which dresses were literally loaded. Individual jewels often took the form of the monogram, crest, or device of the owner, in pure gold richly decorated. A curious instance of this custom has already been alluded to in connection with what occurred during the masque given by Henry VIII at Westminster. The fashion for wearing ornaments in the form of jeweled initials was still in vogue on the quilted dresses of the time of James I. Anne of Denmark is represented in her portraits wearing them both on her ruff and in her hair, and a “jewel, in form of an A and two CC, sett with diamonds ” and others of similar kind are to be found in the lists of jewels supplied to the Queen by George Heriot.
Except occasionally for buttons, the chief means employed for fastening the garments was by ornamental loops or eyelets, formed of cords terminating with goldsmith’s work, were movable and were changed from one dress to another according to pleasure. They are seen in pictures hanging not only from slashes and various parts of the garments, but also from the cap; and Henry VIII is described as wearing a cap ornamented with gold enameled tags.
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