RJ1327

An early Christian Gold Ring with Fish Intaglio, ca. late 2nd century AD

a delicate and beautiful gold ring with a lozenge-shaped bezel whose two sharpest points flank a raised carnelian intaglio. The intaglio is a fiery carnelian stone that has been cut into a tapering cylindrical manner, the flat surface bearing the inscription of two fish facing each other's respective tails. The fins alongside the fish are carved with multiple expressive marks radiating away from the bodies, the tail fins are implied by sharply-angled chevrons confronting each other and pointing toward the fish heads. 

Quite well known, of course, is the fact that early Christians attached special significance to the sign of the fish, which arguably ranked first in symbolic importance. The earliest literary reference to the Christian fish is made by Clement of Alexandria, born about 150, who recommends his readers (The Pedagogue III.11) have their seals engraved with a dove or a fish. There are numerous stories involving fish in the gospels, with the most obvious being Jesus’ multiplication of the fish and loaves to feed thousands. The disciples, some of whom were literally fishermen, are characterized as fishers of people in the gospels as well. Gradually, the fish also became associated with other specifically Christian rituals, including the thanksgiving meal (Eucharist) and baptism. Tertullian, for instance, speaks of Christians as fish following the chief fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ) Jesus Christ in connection with baptism: “But we, being little fishes, as Jesus Christ is our great Fish, begin our life in the water, and only while we abide in the water are we safe and sound”. Tertullian may here be alluding to the fact that the Greek word for “fish”, ΙΧΘΥΣ, was used by some Christians as an acrostic for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”, with each letter representing part of this name / title (cf. Sibylline Oracles 8:217-250). Fish commonly appear in Christian funerary art of the third and following centuries, sometimes alongside other symbols which were given a Christian meaning, including the anchor. 

The fish symbol occurs more frequently on gems than was engraved on the metal of rings. It is engraved on a fine emerald ring now in the British Museum. The ring of St. Arnulphus, which is considered to be earlier than the fourth century, and is preserved in the Catherdral of Metz, has a milk-white agate on which a fish is engraved" - Charles Drury Edward Fortnum,  On some finger-rings, of the early Christian period).

Condition:   The ring has been resized, it is intact and in excellent condition overall.

Dimensions:  US ring size: 5

Provenance:  Private English collection, acquired from the trade around early 1970's

 




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