Nuptias in temporibus antiquis

Museal gold ring with agate seal stone, 1st century AD.

Almost 2000 years old is the present ring, which was worn in Rome during the imperial era as a sign of engagement. It therefore seems almost like a small miracle that the ring has survived all these centuries and lies before us today hardly changed. In ancient Rome, it was customary to exchange rings when entering into a contract, also as a sign of a promise of marriage. According to Pliny, these rings, known as annulus pronubus, were originally made of iron and showed no ornamentation. In the first post-Christian centuries, however, rings made of gold, often decorated with gems, were used by all who could afford them. The symbol of this marriage vow was the representation of the so-called dextrarum iunctio. As a central part of the Roman marriage ritual, the spouses join right hands in this gesture as a sign of enduring loyalty in their life together. An example of this custom can be seen in an ancient sarcophagus from the museum of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua, dating from around 160 AD, which we illustrate here alongside the ring. In later times, the motif was often reduced to two hands and lives on in the so-called "Mani in Fede" until our time. The present ring is an excellent example of this typical form of Roman engagement ring. Probably made in the 1st century AD, the ring features a finely cut intaglio of lagestone agate with the dextrarum iunctio. As it is a seal stone, the scene is reversed and it is only in the impression that the couple join right hands. The woman wears the typical Flavian hairstyle with a high forelock and knot at the nape of her neck. In the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna there is a very comparable piece which probably shows Domitian and his wife Domitia, cf. our second illustration. Both spouses hold an ear of grain in their hands as a sign of the fertility of the marriage. While Roman stone carvings have relatively often survived the millennia, examples with their original setting and rail are real rarities. So it is particularly fortunate that in our case the ring has survived in its entirety. The simple bar is made of almost pure gold and is hollow in typical Roman style. Literature: Diana Scarisbrick: Rings. Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty, London 2007, pp. 58-61. A comparable piece can be found in the British Museum catalogue available online: F. H. Marshall: Catalogue of the finger rings, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman, London 1907, no. 271 / Pl XII, as well as in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, cf. Erika Zwierlein-Diehl: Antike Gemmen und ihr Nachleben, Berlin/New York 2007, p. 427 and pl. 119, fig. 568. Provenance: Acquired from the previous owner in the 1970s in the "Kölner Münzkabinett".

For centuries, possessing antique cameos and gems was the claim of almost all great collections, from the Green Vault in Dresden to the treasury of Rudolf II to large private collections such as that of Baron von Stosch in later times. The 18th and 19th centuries produced numerous large imprint collections of ancient sealstones and gems, which were able to represent the ancient imagery of glyptic almost in its entirety.

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You can rely on our years of experience in the trade and our expertise as a professional art historians for reviews of the antique jewellery. As a member of various trader organisations and the British Society of Jewellery Historians, we remain committed to the highest possible degree of accuracy. In our descriptions, we always also indicate any signs of age and defects and never hide them in our photos – this saves you from any unpleasant surprises when your package arrives.

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We want you to be 100% satisfied! That’s why we examine, describe and photograph all our jewellery with the utmost care.

If for any reason you are still not satisfied, contact us and we will find a mutual solution immediately. Regardless, you can return any item within 30 days and we will refund you the full purchase price.

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