Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gifts of Grandeur: The Parrot Ring, 1850

Calcutta, 1850
Gold, Sapphire, Rubies, Garnet
The Victoria and Albert Museum

This is an exceptional piece, made in India in 1850. It features a fully-sculpted parrot (carved from a single sapphire and set with rubies and a garnet) perched atop a band of gold.

Purchased by the Indian Museum in London in 1855, the ring was purported as having been made in "Bengal.” At the time, the term “Bengal” referred to the overall “Begnal Presidency” which comprised a vastly larger area than present-day Bengal. In light of that, historians feel the ring was crafted in Calcutta which, at the time, was considered part of “Bengal.” Calucutta was a major hub of the arts in the Nineteenth Century, and the location for makers of opulent and highly-desirable jewelry made in the British and European style for export.

The ring appears to be an Eastern adaptation of traditional European rings (especially those from Ireland and Wales) which included a visual motif of two hands clasping one another—a symbol of love or friendship. The theme of friendship is rather lost in this retelling of the classic visual tradition, as the maker has inaccurately rendered the design. The gold hands, joined at the wrist, atop the gold band, face away from each other instead of touching one another. Perhaps this change was made to accommodate the true centerpiece of the ring—the parrot. While the “hands” motif seems an afterthought, the bird has been carefully rendered. He perches atop the hands, glittering blue from the single sapphire from which he is carved. His ruby eyes glint in contrast against his smooth blue body as does his beak—carved from an impressive almandine garnet.

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