Bows were all the rage in the 17th century, originating from cloth bows on dresses and found in jewelry on pins, pendants, buttons, and brooches, but very rarely on rings such as this gorgeous brightly enameled one.

By the seventeenth century, the bow jewel was a familiar ornament on European dress, although portraits show that ribbons pinned or sewn to dresses had been fashionable for years. Engravings, panel paintings, and inventories of jewelry show finely enameled bow jewels – pendants, brooches, and hairpins – composed of stones, pearls, rubies, and diamonds.

Bow rings are more unusual, and this one is replete with the symbolism of love. The bow itself is a natural evolution of the lover’s knot, already popular in the later medieval era. Here a bow-shaped bezel houses a central pearl, and the four loops of the bow are enameled black with gold edging. Four white and pink enameled petals resemble pansies, the latter a symbol of love (“Pensez a moi” or “think of me”). The long-stemmed daisies, enameled white and pink on the shoulders, are also symbolic of love. Hopeful lovers would pluck the petals and play “he/she loves me, he/she loves me not.” The central pearl represents purity and chastity.

The depiction of naturalistic flowers in this ring attests to the widespread interest in botanical subjects by seventeenth-century goldsmiths, such as the jewelry drawings of Gilles Légaré, published in 1663 in Livre des ouvrages d’orfevrerie.


European Private Collection


For a similar, slightly later bow see the Alice and Louis Koch Collection in the Swiss National

Museum, Zurich (Chadour 1994, no. 866). The bow of the bezel also evokes the jeweled tops of hairpins, such as those in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (Mauriès/Possémé 2017, pp. 28-9).


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