Plan Ahead

Visiting Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty or Van Gogh’s Cypresses?

Read the additional visitor guidelines

Exhibitions/ Treasures and Talismans

Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffin Collection

May 1–October 18, 2015

Exhibition Overview

Rings are one of the oldest and most familiar forms of bodily adornment. Worn by both women and men, they serve as declarations of status, markers of significant life events, expressions of identity, and protective talismans. They also have been a source of boundless invention for goldsmiths and their clients.

The rings featured in this exhibition come from the Griffin Collection, named after the mythical creature that is part lion and part eagle. In medieval lore, the griffin was often a guardian of treasure and was known to seek out gold in rocks. While the collection includes finger rings from across the ages, our selection focuses specifically on objects made in the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance periods. These were especially innovative moments in the development of finger rings, and the wide variety of designs on view testifies to the creative energy of premodern goldsmiths. Related works from the Metropolitan's collection highlight the connections between rings and other works of art, such as painting, metalwork, and manuscript illumination.

Exploring the making of rings from raw material to finished product and from goldsmith to owner, this exhibition will highlight rings as both physical objects and works of art. The significance of rings in the lives of medieval and Renaissance people will be a featured topic. Also discussed will be the connection of rings to religion, superstition, love, marriage, and identity.

"As shown by [this] absorbing exhibition at the Cloisters, a ring can be a miniature sculpture of marvelous complexity, skill and imagination."—New York Times

"A compact but beguiling exhibition"—Wall Street Journal

The exhibition is made possible by the Estate of Eldridge Greenlee.

Exhibition Objects

Clockwise, from top left: Octahedral Diamond Ring, second half 3rd–early 4th century. Roman. Devotional Ring, inscribed "Hail blessed Jesus born of the Virgin Mary, my Lord and God," 13th century. Probably British. Langobard Bishop's Ring, 7th–8th century. Italian, Lombardy. Merovingian Architectural Ring, mid-6th century. French, Gaul. Renaissance Triumph of Love Cameo Ring, 16th century (cameo), 19th century (setting). Italian. Gold Marriage Ring, inscribed "Concord," 6th–7th century." Byzantine. Inscribed Sapphire Ring, late 14th century (setting), 10th century(?) (sapphire). Italian. Cusped Ring, 15th century. North European. Renaissance Gimmel Ring with Memento Mori, dated 1631. German. Griffin Collection.