AZ Gemologist was interested to note the New York Times story on the Treasures and Talismans exhibit at the Cloisters. This exhibition, featuring 60 rings from the Griffin collection is put together by the Cloister’s curator, C. Griffith Mann. The rings in the collection are of European origins and date from late Roman times to the Renaissance. The exhibition also includes a dozen paintings featuring rings and ring making, as well as tools and other items having to do with metal working. This part of the exhibit was of special interest to us at AZ gemologist.
Rings are one of the most common jewelry types and are considered among the oldest of all metal adornments. They have served to signify status and office, as well as membership in guilds, marriages and even the power of entire kingdoms, in the case of signet rings that were used to indicate when messages were sent from a governmental official.
One piece that caught the eye of AZ gemologist in this collection of outstanding examples of the ring making art is a Seventeenth century gimmel ring. This gimmel is a Renaissance ring made of multiple hoops of metal, which nest into each other in a puzzle like fashion to create the complete ring. This example features bands in the form of snakes, which, when fitted together, bear the matrimonial inscription, “Whom God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.”
Another important element of this exhibit is a group of objects and art pieces detailing the craft of the goldsmith. One of the leading pieces of this group is a 15th century painting by a Belgian painter, Petrus Christus. The painting entitled, “A Goldsmith in His Shop”, is a detailed account of a goldsmith’s typical shop in Christus’s day, a piece that AZ gemologist could appreciate. Another piece in this collection is a set of carved ivory Rosary Beads, each bead handcrafted and much larger than a traditional rosary, the size of a chicken egg. At either end of the string, a gold human head is depicted, with half of the skin removed to exhibit the skull.
The entire collection tells a story of a handicraft that is all but lost in our day and the meanings behind jewelry that was custom made for each wearer, as opposed to today’s mass produced offerings. This trip back in time is one that AZ gemologist would highly recommend.