Early Byzantine Jewelry Part 3: How Did Byzantine Finger Rings Become the Best?

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Finger rings have survived in greater numbers than other Byzantine ornaments. The majority are figured with the beautiful symbolism of the Christian belief. Some are set with engraved gems, but on most the design is produced by the more simple process of engraving the metal of which the ring is composed.

In early Christian times rings were often offered as presents, and were engraved with expressions of goodwill towards the recipient, whose name is sometimes mentioned. The British Museum contains a somewhat extensive collection of these rare objects in gold. Bronze, often gilded, is naturally the commoner material. Silver appears to have been scarcely ever employed.

The interest of the majority of Byzantine rings arises rather from the subjects with which they are associated, than from the quality of their workmanship. There is, however, in the British Museum a very beautiful example of pierced gold work in the form of a key ring with projecting tongue, of a kind much used in Roman times, which opened the lock by lifting a latch.

Upon the front of a wide hoop are the words Accipe diilcis, in letters reserved in metal in a pierced ground. The remainder of the hoop is divided into compartments, each containing one letter of the inscription Mnltis annis. Above the inscription, in front, is a rectangular projection, perhaps for insertion into a lock. It is finely pierced with a design in the form of Greek crosses.

The sack of Constantinople by the French and Venetians dealt the death-blow to Byzantine art. Until well into the thirteenth century the Byzantine goldsmiths continued to exercise an important influence on their contemporaries, and transmitted to the artists of medieval Europe such of the processes and designs of antique art as they had preserved. Their intercourse was closest with Russia, whose jewelry for centuries, has followed the designs of the old Byzantine workmen.

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Development of Bracelets, Armlets, and Finger Rings

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In Southern Europe circular plates have been found fitted with a pin. These plates appear’ to have been developed by the conversion of a primitive disc of spiral concentric wire into a circular plate. From the brooch of this type sprang the circular brooch of the Roman period, often inlaid with enamel, as well as the splendid circular brooches of Anglo-Saxon times, and all other disc-shaped brooches. In all early periods, and even in Roman times, the bow or safety-pin type of brooch was commoner than the disc and also more practical, as it offered room for the gathered folds of the garment. In modern times the disc-shaped brooch fitted with a hinged or sometimes with a spring pin has been principally used.

The two remaining groups of brooches—(3) the Celtic brooch and (4) the ring-brooch—are both developments of the simple pin in combination with a ring—in the former case pen annular and in the latter annular. The Celtic brooch, with pen annular ring and long pin, is apparently the result of fitting a pin to a prehistoric form of fastening for the dress—a pen-annular ring terminating with knobs, known as a mammillary fibula. The ring-brooch with complete ring, and pin of the same length as the diameter of the ring, which was popular in medieval times, is the outcome of fitting a complete ring of wire to a pin to prevent the head of the pin from slipping through the material—which ring in course of time became the more important member. It is improbable that the Celtic brooch originated in the same way, from the union of a long pin with a small ring. Nor is it likely that these two forms of brooches were evolved the one out of the other by the shortening or lengthening of the pins. As a matter of fact the two appear to have arisen independently side by side.

Bracelets and armlets may be considered together^ for though the bracelet is properly only a decoration for the wrist, the term has become descriptive of any ornament worn upon the arm. The bracelet, together with the necklace, were the earliest ornaments used for the decoration of mankind. Amongst savage tribes both were worn in some form or another—the necklace as an ornament pure and simple, but the bracelet serving frequently a practical purpose, sometimes as a shield for the arm in combat, sometimes covered with spikes, and used for offensive purposes. While used universally by women in the form of a ba^id, closed, or open on one side, or else in the shape of a spiral, or fashioned like a chain, the bracelet has been worn from the earliest times in the East by men also, especially by princes as one of the insignia of royalty, and by distinguished persons in general.

Of all jewels the simplest and at the same time perhaps the most interesting and important is the finger ring. It is universally employed as an article of personal ornament, and has been worn by both sexes at almost all times, and in nearly every country. Sometimes it is an object of use as the signet ring, or a token of dignity as the bishop’s ring. Sometimes it has a symbolical significance, as the wedding-ring. Sometimes it is purely ornamental.

Most finger rings may be said to be formed of two parts—the circular portion which surrounds the finger, known as the hoop or shank, and the enlarged or upper portion which is called the bezel. This latter term, applied to the upper side of the ring, which is broadened to receive an ornament of some kind, generally a stone, seems to have originally designated the basil or projecting flange, that retained the stone in its setting. The term collet, also used for the whole top including the stone or seal, is similarly derived from the flange or collet in which the stone is set. From its box-like shape this part of the ring is also called the chat on.

This post is connected to: https://carmilitashandmadejewelry.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/the-development-of-earrings-necklaces-and-the-brooch/