I had the pleasure to trek up to NYC see the Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffon Collection exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park. Stepping back in time to the medieval era where precious materials were not in excess and the lack of technology proves that the marvels on display are impeccable works for their time. These rings were gaudy and rich with meaning as well as ceremony. These jewels were a representation of the individual and their personal experience whether it had to do with the acceptance of mortality in the form of Memento Mori (remember death) rings, Posey (poetry) rings, or to demonstrate marriage to the church (clergy status rings). We can see the importance of meditation and reflection in this era that is evident through the jewelry and other works of art from this time.
These rings were so personable in that they were specifically made for an occasion or thought since jewelry really was not widespread or a common thing to posses, so it held very high value to those lucky enough to have something commissioned.
The medieval time span is interesting in that technologies were gained and lost due to poor documentation, disease, and constant feuding. In fact, some jewelry on display were pieces left over and re-purposed from the Roman Empire, since the technology for carving cameos was lost, these became really prized pieces to own. Through these artifacts we can really watch how people in the medieval times struggled to maintain information and technology. It really puts into perspective the renaissance that follows as we see a boom in science and art as everything is well documented and shared compared to its medieval predecessor.
In the exhibit’s works we can see very specific stylization that points to the medieval time period. Such as the hand engraving of Posey rings where a hand written inscription was written on the inside of the band; often a poem or saying. On the outside hand engraved designs were used as decoration.
The more common engravings were hunting scenes.
Or plant lattice work often called Giardinetti.
The cabochon stones, since the technology for faceting stones did not yet exist, smiths of this time smoothed out the stones surface and really had an emphasis on the color.
Architectural construction, we can see the importance and value of the stones here as the goldsmith built almost steeple like structures that echoed the architecture of the churches at that time. There was utilization of arches and buttress like foundations to hold the setting up high above the hand.
Interestingly enough, there was use of diamonds in this time period, though colored stones were much more prevalent. Once again, the technology to cut a diamond did not exist so the raw stone was incorporated into geometric structures.
Another characteristic that really caught my eye was the pearl accents; the technology to set a pearl was non-existent to medieval gold-smiths, so they would use cold joining techniques. We see two examples of setting on display, the first is sampling threading a drilled pearl onto a post and flatting the end securing the pearl like a bead.
The second is a little cleverer in that a bezel is created to seat the pearl then a singular prong is used to hold it in place.
And very distinct to medieval jewelry are Memento Mori rings, a reflection and reminder of our mortality. Often the pieces will open revealing further design. This is a common motif to not to keep the main feature of the ring in plain view.
We see the same thought with the Posey rings where the message is written on the inside out of view.
If given the chance I highly recommend the trip out to see the Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffon Collection. The exhibition is on display through October 18th in the Glass Gallery at the Cloisters. I cannot express how amazing of an experience it was too see these works in a medieval setting versus that of a sterile museum space. I have not seen an exhibit that breathtaking and enjoyable in a long time. Truly a step out of time.
All pictures were taken by me at the Glass Gallery in the Cloisters