Medieval Iconographic Ring with St. George Slaying the Dragon
“Iconographic” rings, named for the religious images engraved on them, are increasingly rare, and this example is beautifully carved.
Broad gold band which widens to form a rectangular bezel. Engraved along the hoop and shoulders is an oak sprig followed by three diminutive heraldic chevrons with traces of black enamel against a dotted background. On the flat surface of the bezel is an engraved scene of St. George slaying the dragon. As a warrior saint he wears knight’s armor and a cross on his breast plate. Inscribed inside the hoop under the bezel is a black letter inscription in French with traces of white enamel: ‘Elle me plest’ (She pleases me). The ring is in good wearable condition.
Iconographic rings have traditionally images of saints and these are occasionally combined with a romantic posy, like here ‘Elle me plest’ (She pleases me). This poetic phrase is found in love poems of the medieval period, such as in the fifteenth century ‘The Romance of the Rose’ written in Old French. The oak leaf sprig on the hoop is symbolic of loyalty which confirms the love inscription. The heraldic device of black chevrons engrailed against a gold ground (dots indicate the color gold), yet to be identified, indicate aristocratic ownership of the ring.
The choice of St. George on the bezel would have been personal to the owner, as a patron saint of his name, profession or veneration as the saint symbolizing honor, bravery and gallantry. The cult surrounding St George in England began in 1098 when he appeared in the sky during the Battle of Antioch in the First Crusade when the enemy was defeated. He became patron saint of England in 1415 after the Battle of Agincourt and during the 1400s St George’s Chapel at Windsor became a place of pilgrimage.
Iconographic rings with St. George show him together with other saints or as a single figure, for example in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Church 2011, p. 20, fig. 15 M. 235-1962 also inv. nos. M. 237-1962 and 236-1962); British Museum. London (Dalton 1912, nos. 727), Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Scarisbrick 2003, pp. 42-3. no. 3). The oak leaves appear as a main feature on a fifteenth-century English love ring in the Alice and Louis Koch Collection in the Swiss National Museum, Zurich (Chadour 1994, no. 592; Chadour 2019, p. 28, fig. 2.5).
Although we have identified more than 250 extant iconographic rings, they are now relatively rare on the market. See Hindman (“Medieval Iconographic Rings: Constructing a Cultural Context,” Festschrift Herbert L. Kessler, Codex Aquilarensis, 2021, forthcoming).