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Octagonal Marriage Ring with Holy Site Scenes

Early Byzantine
7th century
2.3 x 3.2 x 3.2 cm (7/8 x 1 1/4 x 1 1/4 in.)
gold with niello

On view


Additional Images
Click an image to view a larger version
Additional Image Bezel
Additional Image Detail of band: Annunciation and Visitation
Detail of band: Annunciation and Visitation
Additional Image Detail of band: Baptism; Crucifixion; Appearance in the Garden
Detail of band: Baptism; Crucifixion; Appearance in the Garden
Additional Image Detail of band: Nativity; Presentation; Baptism
Detail of band: Nativity; Presentation; Baptism
Additional Image Detail of bezel: Married Couple
Detail of bezel: Married Couple
Additional Image Profile of band, proper left
Profile of band, proper left
Additional Image Profile of band, proper right
Profile of band, proper right
Additional Image Profile of bezel
Profile of bezel
Additional Image Profile of bezel
Profile of bezel
Additional Image Profile, three-quarter view
Profile, three-quarter view

On the bezel, or face, of this ring, bride and groom are being crowned by haloed figures of Jesus and Mary (or a personification of Ecclesia, the Church), who stand in the center. Though almost too small to see, beards identify the male figures to the left. Placing crowns on both bride and groom was an integral part of the Orthodox wedding ceremony.

This imposing ring has two unusual features: the bodies of the bride and bridegroom are hollow, suggesting that they were originally filled with gemstones, and seven scenes from the life of Jesus appear on the facets of the hoop. These miniatures are arranged in chronological order: Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation in the Temple, Baptism, Crucifixion, and Christ appearing in the garden after the Resurrection.

Another remarkable aspect of this ring is the extent of its inscriptions. “Harmony” is invoked below the main image, as it is on many marriage rings. A more personalized wish is inscribed around the lobes of the bezel, “Lord, help thy servants, Peter and Theodote," no doubt the wedding couple, while on the narrow edges of the hoop are quotes from John 14:27, “My peace I leave with you,“ and “My peace I give unto you."

The imagery and inscriptions of this ring reflect the concerns of the married couple in their relationship to God and to each other. They testify to the intimacy between the ring’s owners and events of sacred history. Expressed even on the smallest scale, personal experience was understood to participate in God’s pre-ordained cosmos.

- S. Zwirn

G. L. Schlumberger, Mélanges d'archéologie Byzantine : monnaies, médailles, méreaux, jetons, amulettes, bulles d'or et de plomb, poids de verre et de bronze, ivoires, objets d'orfèvrerie, bagues, religuaires, etc (Paris, 1895), 67-69.

Catalogue des objets antiques... dépendant de la succession de M. le Baron Jérome Pichon (Paris, 1897), no. 26 pl. 2.

S. d. Ricci, Catalogue of a Collection of Ancient Rings Formed by the Late E. Guilhou (Paris, 1912), 100-101, no. 854, pl. 13.

Sotheby and Company, Sales Catalogue of the Guilhou Collection of Rings, 9-12 November, 1937 (London, 1937), 97, no. 460.

M. Chatzidakis, "Un anneau byzantin du Musée Benaki," Byzantinisch-neugreichische Jahbücher 17 (1939-1943): 174-206, esp. 201-202, no. 80.

C. Cecchelli, "L'anello bizantino del Museo di Palermo," Orientalia christiana periodica 13 (1947): 40-57, esp. 54-56.

Walters Art Gallery, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, ed. D.E. Miner, exhibition catalogue, Baltimore Museum of Art, April 25-June 22, 1947(Baltimore, 1947), 106, no. 514.

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 81-82, 94, no. 195.

E. H. Kantorowicz, "The Golden Marriage Belt and the Marriage Rings of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 14 (1960): 1-16.

M. C. Ross, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, vol. 2, Jewelry, Enamels, and Art of the Migration Period, (Washington, D.C., 1965, 2nd ed. with addendum by S.A. Boyd and S. R. Zwirn, 2005), 58-59, no. 69, pl. 43-44, colorpl. E.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 57, no. 205.

J. Engemann, "Palastinensische Pilgerampullen im F.J. Dolger-Institut in Bonn," Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 16 (1973): 5-27, pl. 11, fig. c.

K. Weitzmann, Age of Spirituality : Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century, ed. K. Weitzmann, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977-February 12, 1978 (New York, 1979), 496, no. 446.

G. Vikan and J. Nesbitt, Security in Byzantium : Locking, Sealing, and Weighing, Publications / Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection 2 (Washington, D.C. and Houston, Tex., 1980), 20, fig. 42.

G. Vikan, Byzantine Pilgrimage Art, Publications / Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection 5 (Washington, D.C., 1982), 43, fig. 35 a-c.

———, "Art and Marriage in Early Byzantium," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990): 145-68, fig. 26.

D. Buckton, Byzantium: Treasures of Byzantine Art and Culture from British Collections, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, (London, 1994), 47, 99.

J. Durand, L'art byzantin (Paris, 1999), 53-54.

F. Boespflug, Le Christ dans l'art : des catacombes au XXe siècle, Le monde de la Bible (Paris, 2000), 54.

I. Kalavrezou and A. E. Laiou, Byzantine Women and their World, exhibition catalogue, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, (Cambridge and New Haven, 2003), 227, no. 130.

C. L. Connor, Women of Byzantium (New Haven, 2004)101-102, fig. 17.

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 124, pl. p. 125.

H. C. Evans and B. Ratliff, eds., Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th-9th Century. Metropolitan Museum of Art ed. (New York and New Haven [Conn.], 2012), 89-90, no. 56.

M. Milwright, The Dome of the Rock and its Umayyad Mosaic Inscriptions, Edinburgh Studies in Islamic Art 6 6 vols., ed. R. Hillenbrand (Edinburgh, 2016), 195, no. 7.20.

Heinz, Werner, Kleine Kulturgeschichte der Achtzahl (Munich: Verlagshaus Monsenstein und Vannerdat, 2016), 139.

Exhibition History
Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art, "Early Christian and Byzantine Art," April 25 - June 22, 1947.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century," Nov. 19, 1977 - Feb. 12, 1978.

Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks, "Security in Byzantium: Locking, Sealing, Weighing," May 8 - Sept. 2, 1980.

Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks, "Byzantine Pilgrimage Art," March 5 - Sept. 6, 1982.

Cambridge, MA, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, "Byzantine Women and Their World," Oct. 26, 2002 - Apr. 28, 2003.

Washington, DC, Freer Gallery of Art & the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, “Ancient and Medieval Metalwork from Dumbarton Oaks,” Dec. 16, 2005 – Apr. 1, 2007.

Acquisition History
Collection of Baron Jérome Pichon to 1896;

Collection of Ernest Guilhou (1844–1912), Paris;

Purchased from Aldo Jandolo by Joseph Brummer, June 21, 1943;

Brummer Gallery (inventory N5532):

Purchased from Joseph Brummer (dealer) by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., August 8, 1947;

The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.

Annunciation | Baptism of Christ | Christ|Jesus Christ | Crucifixion | Elizabeth | Myrrophoroi | Nativity | Presentation | Virgin Mary | Visitation