The Great Court of the British Museum, £9.99
Height: 3.400 cm (bezel)
Gift of Professor and Mrs John Hull Grundy
M&ME HG cat. 193
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Ivory finger ring
England, probably London, around AD 1790
A rare survival
The bezel of the ring is inset with a minutely carved ivory vessel under sail on a blue background under glass, bordered with a gold rim.
During the late eighteenth- and early-nineteenth centuries, a large number of small-scale objects in carved ivory were produced as items of jewellery, such as brooches, rings, pendants and ear-rings. Renowned centres of ivory carving were the German towns of Hamburg, Munich and from the mid-nineteenth century, Erbach im Odenwald, where a workshop and school were located. Ivory carving was also practised in France and in Switzerland, and in a few of the larger towns in England, probably by craftsmen trained in Continental Europe. The miniature scenes with pastoral, animal and allegorical subjects were especially popular.
Most ivory work is not signed, and the craftsmen remain anonymous. However, G. Stephany and J. Dresch, highly-skilled ivory carvers working in partnership in Bath and later in London, are known to have exhibited harbour scenes in ivory at the Royal Academy in 1791 and 1793. This ring, with the vessel under sail on a choppy sea, is close in style to their work. As a material, ivory is extremely fragile, and this is a rare survival of a ring of that period with an ivory hoop.
C. Gere and others, The art of the jeweller: a cat, 2 vols. (, 1984)