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'Finger Rings' at The Ashmolean Museum

Posted on May 11 2020

If you, like us, have a ‘thing’ for rings you'll doubtless enjoy the fascinating ‘Finger Ring’ collection which is kept in The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. The Ashmolean Museum is the oldest university museum in the world, starting out in 1683, initially as a building to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), a wealthy lawyer and antiquarian had collected (find out more about Elias here).

elias ashmole  

The Finger Ring collection consists of a diverse selection of ring types, including rare examples covering many centuries; ranging from Pharonic Egypt to Victorian Britain. Particularly important are the Medieval, Renasissance and Baroque examples, and the large collection of 'Posey' rings, and the collection is considered one of the best in the country. What this wonderfully varied collection particularly celebrates is the personal and social significance that each of the rings had to its wearer. 

Often in history and in legend…a story turns upon the fact that that a ring or jewel is recognised as belonging to someone important…and it is true that rings were known and recognised as powerful symbols and that the passing of a ring from one person to another could have an awesome significance.’ –Scarisbrook/Henig; Finger Rings.

cde-fortnumThe majority of the rings were presented by two main bequests; from Charles Drury Edward Fortnum (in 1897), a Victorian connoisseur who spent his lifetime searching out, researching and meticulously cataloguing his wide ranging collections, and Sir John Evans (in 1908), previously keeper of the museum. Believing that artifacts, and indeed rings were and are expressive of a particular culture in the same way as architecture and art, they also published several works on the subject. 

ring-collection-ashmolean-museumThis stunning collection is housed in a purpose-built free-standing octagonal shaped cabinet, grouped together in types with many early and rare rings including;

Rings significant for legal and business purposes, denoting power such as intricately carved Roman and Etruscan seal rings.

Rings marking the key events in the lives of their owners such as marriage and death are instanced in the beautiful Renaissance fede love and marriage rings and the exquisitely enamelled 17th century momento mori rings.

Papal and other ecclesiastical rings demonstrating the strength of religious faith or authority of the wearer include rings with prayers, Biblical inscriptions and iconography.

Amulet rings such as the fourteenth century toadstone rings, showing belief in the supernatural power of some gemstones.

  ancient signet ringrings ashmolean antique mourning ring ancient rings ashmolean

It’s a real feast for the eyes….the only frustrating thing about this rich and diverse collection for jewellery junkies such as ourselves, is that you can’t pick them up to examine them or even try them on!

finger rings book ashmoleanThe museum is free to visit, or you can buy the book that accompanies the exhibit by Diana Scarisbrook and Martin Henig. 

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