The minstrel's morning gift

Medieval gold ring with sapphire, so called Pie Dish Ring, around 1320

Under the linden tree on the heath, "where our two beds were, "You'll find beautiful both Broken flowers and grass. "Outside the forest in a valley, tandaradei, "Shallow sanc diu nahtegal... Thus begins one of the most beautiful Middle High German songs of Walther von der Vogelweide, which is strongly influenced by the classical Minnegesang and was composed in the years around 1200. It describes the love experience of an apparently simple girl with her courtly lover in the great outdoors. Throughout almost the entire High Middle Ages, minne, i.e. the veneration of women (mhd. minne = "loving remembrance") and the associated, highly ritualized form of sung love poetry, which the Western European nobility cultivated from around the middle of the 12th to the middle of the 13th century, was the highest means of expressing love. While numerous poems from those years have survived in written tradition, jewels from the late Middle Ages are exceedingly rare. The chances are too high that pieces of jewellery made of gold will be melted down in the course of the centuries to make something new out of them, and that jewellery that has become unfashionable will be transformed into new forms. That is why I am all the more pleased to present to you an original 14th century ring that came to us from an English collection of Antony Douch. It is a wearable and, as it were, museum piece of jewellery from the era of Gothic cathedrals, knights and noblemen, of whose lives we now have only a faint idea. The ring is forged from high karat gold and holds a dark blue cabochon cut sapphire. The stone dates from the years in which Marco Polo (1254-1324) travelled through India and the stone used here is a telling example of the fact that sapphires were imported to Europe as early as the 14th century. The sapphire is cut in a trapezoidal shape and the shape of the rough stone is decisive for the shape of the ring itself. No two surviving rings of this type, most of which are in museums, are alike, because the shape of the stone, which is only slightly cut, always determines the shape of the ring head. The shape of our ring can also be derived from the contemporary architecture of the time, and so the trapezoidal ring head with its almost mirror-image base and its clearly defined edges is indeed also reminiscent of the keystone of a medieval masonry arch. Sapphires in particular were precious and highly prized gemstones in those years, for in the imagination of the late Middle Ages they were thought to bring wisdom and wealth to their wearers, and were believed to have numerous protective functions against disease and even poisoning. Therefore, rings like this one were often worn in large numbers, each ring with a different gemstone, so that the wearer was maximally protected from all harm. But above all, rings like this were gifts to beloved ladies, since the sapphire stands above all for faithful love. It is therefore probable that the medieval ring in question here was a gift of love to a presumably noble lady, for pieces such as this were so precious, rare and scarce in those days that it can be assumed that they belonged to the highest social circles. Comparable rings can be found in the collections of the great museums of decorative arts; we refer here solely to Diana Scarisbrick's standard work "Rings. Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty", London 2007, which describes on p. 238f several comparable pieces of the years around 1300. Compare also a very similar example from the "Benjamin Zucker Family Collection", Sandra Hindman et al: Cycles of Life: Rings from the Benjamin Zucker Family Collection, London 2014, p. 150f.
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