Discovered at Les Enluminures and acquired by the King Baudouin Foundation (Christian Bauwens Fund) on the opening day of TEFAF Maastricht 2020, this rare 17th century cluster ring found its way into the collection of DIVA. At the museum for diamonds, jewelry, and silver in Antwerp, the ring will continue to mesmerize visitors with its unsolved mystery, charm, and carefully crafted details.
The meaning around this rare 17th century ring is not yet completely clear and lends the jewel an air of mystery. When opening it, it reveals the portrait of a man on the top, and a tiny sculpture of a gardener with a flower and a rope over his shoulder against a deep dark enamel on the bottom. In a romantic fantasy, the piece could tell the love story of a wealthy and important woman, who fell in love with her gardener but had to keep this a forbidden secret. Opening the ring she would see both her husband on the top, and her secret lover on the bottom.
There are other versions of its potential meaning, as well. On the one hand, the ring can be interpreted as a memento mori, in which case the figurine could refer to the risen Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene as a gardener. On the other hand, it could have also been an engagement ring. In that case, the little figure with the flower could refer to fertility or rebirth of the nature after winter. The rope on the shoulders symbolizes the devotion to his love, represented by a rose.
Besides the veil of mystery that surrounds this ring, it is a very rare object and an important addition to DIVA’s jewelry collection. The narrow golden ring, with chiseled and black enameled decoration on the shoulders, carries an oval case with cover, with a brown table diamond on top, in a high setting with a milled edge. Cluster rings consist of a central diamond surrounded by smaller diamonds, in this case ten of diverse cuts. The bottom of the case is decorated with symmetrically arranged leaves and flower speckles in black, white, and rose enamel on a blue background. Rings with a hinged lid containing a miniature portrait are few and far between. Most of the cluster rings known from this period are round, as evidenced by many painted portraits from the Low Countries, which makes this oval piece even more special. The high quality of execution with its cut diamonds and hidden colors, are yet another factor that add to the mysterious beauty and rarity of the piece.
At DIVA, serving as a custodian of its precious objects, the ring has undoubtedly found its worthy place. With a mission to preserve its collection for future generations, the museum ensures that Antwerp retains its prominent position as the capitol of diamonds on the world map. Installed in a kaleidoscope-like vitrine as part of the museum’s permanent collection, the ring is displayed in such a way that visitors will be captivated by its rare technique and magic.
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- Cheyenne Wehren