Antique Renaissance Gold Signet Ring, Great Britain, 16th Century

The world of the Middle Ages and early modern times was less shaped by writing and texts than our time. People, who often could not read or write, thought and learned much more in pictures and through pictures. Stories about animals were popular even then and many of the symbolic ideas of the time are still immediately catchy today. The pelican, as the scholars of the Middle Ages knew, sacrifices himself for the love of his young. He opens his own chest with his beak and lets his blood drip onto his dead young, bringing them back to life. This was understood allegorically and related to Jesus' sacrificial death: He too bleeds on the cross and thus brings redemption of mankind from death. The pelican thus quickly became a popular heraldic animal for cities and towns, and especially for ecclesiastical dignitaries. One of the most famous was the English Bishop of Winchester, Richard Foxe, who, among other things, founded Corpus Christi College at Oxford University. He chose the pelican for his coat of arms, and a 16th-century sundial crowned by a pelican still stands outside the college today. Subsequently, the pelican quickly spread among clergy in Britain as a seal image, especially among those who came from the bourgeoisie and had not previously had their own coat of arms. The ring presented here originates from Great Britain and shows the pelican feeding its young on the seal face. It was made in the 16th century, probably in the first half of the secular period. This is shown by comparison with a very similar ring in the possession of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, inv. no. 792-1871. The shape of the seal face and the framing engravings are the most conclusive features here for a roughly contemporaneous dating. A second signet ring of the same shape and period survives in the possession of the British Museum, London, Inv. No. 1865,0408.47, here executed in bronze. The British Museum also holds other rings with the same symbolism from a later period, e.g. Inv. No. AF.824, with remains of enamel, made in the 17th century. The ring we were able to acquire in Salzburg was made in Britain in the 16th century. It was probably the signet ring of a clergyman who was in one way or another connected to Robert Foxe, or wished to attest to a relationship with this important bishop in English church history. Since the symbolism of the pelican was so immediately apparent even in later times, it was evidently always cherished. Thus it is preserved in first-class condition to this day. The symbolism of the pelican is founded in the Physiologus. Tiere und ihre Symbolik, transferred and explained by Otto Seel, Düsseldorf 2005, p. 10f. On gold signet rings in Renaissance Britain see also Diana Scarisbrick: Rings. Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty, London 2007, pp. 34-42.

A signet ring was already an important symbol in antiquity and, in addition to its function as a representative object, was also used to seal documents. In almost all epochs, these rings were reserved for the upper classes alone. Above all, the pieces of jewellery were charged with content and were also often a sign of noble origin and social influence.

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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.