Ring with Head of the Virgin
The gold band with profiled edging and openwork decoration widens toward the bezel. The shoulders are formed of intertwined acanthus foliage in high relief, which scroll around a quatrefoil frame with Gothic tracery backdrop for a sculpted female, an almost three-dimensional bust in three-quarter profile, probably the Virgin Mary. She wears a headband across the forehead, flowing veil, and high-necked dress. On the lower part of the hoop is the maker’s mark “WIESE” (used by Louis Wièse from 1890 to 1925), the maker’s mark in lozenge shape and above the eagle’s head (French guarantee mark for 18 carat gold for goods made in France).
The jeweler Henri Vever described Louis Wièse in his book on French nineteenth-century jewelry as: “An exceptionally modest and truly talented artist, he continues to make the sort of jewelry on which his father’s reputation was founded” (Vever 2001, p. 681). Louis’s father, Jules Wièse, was highly regarded for his ecclesiastical silver and jewelry in the Gothic style.
Protruding heads in three-quarter profile are typical in the tradition of the company; often they are made in silver against an enameled background. The head of the Virgin Mary, here, in contrast to that of Joan of Arc (no. 8), is similar in its detail with a Virgin and Child on the crook staff made by Jules for Bishop Andreas Raess of Strassburg in 1856. The high forehead, oval face with pointed cheek, long straight nose, and downcast eyes are close to Renaissance prototypes.
The distinctive style Louis evolved is evident in the decorative details. He favored openwork designs, typically in gold, with ornament chased in high relief, as is evident in the acanthus foliage here. He often incorporated frames of trefoils and quatrefoils. Inspired by Gothic architecture, Louis certainly was familiar with Viollet-le-Duc’s program of restoration of church and cathedral architecture and his publications. In his 1856 Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle, Viollet-le-Duc explained “To restore a building is not to preserve it, to repair, or rebuild it; it is to reinstate it in a condition of completeness, which never could have existed at any given time.” This vision of an idealized past underlies not only the work of the Wièse firm but that of most of the Revival jewelers.
compare examples by Jules in exh. cat. Bijoux Parisiens 2013, cat. no. 31; Hellmuth 2014, pp. 200–201, cat. no. 29 (a bracelet of 1855); and Hellmuth 2014, pp. 261–263 (the bishop’s staff).