This strange and beautiful memento mori ring is from the collection of the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford. Showing a woman’s(?) face on one side and an enamelled skull on the other, this late 17th-century gold ring is meant to serve as a reminder that the wearer will one day die.
There are plenty of other examples of memento mori jewellery featuring skulls from the 16th and 17th centuries, but this one seems unusual because of the ‘alive’ face it features on the reverse. (And don’t you think the cherubic face is just as creepy as the skull?) I know very little about historical rings, but in her article on mourning jewellery Margriet Sopers mentions Roman memento mori iconography which feature ‘Cupid-like figures holding a torch of life with the flame extinguished‘. Perhaps this helps explain the presence of the face? I couldn’t find any other examples of the dual-faced design, so if anyone knows of others please give a link in the comments!
You can read more about memento mori rings and other macabre jewellery at the wonderful The Art of Mourning. Material Cultures blog has also written about the collection of mourning rings in the British Museum, which were commissioned to commemorate deceased loved ones. Although the morbid taste for these kinds of rings fell out of fashion in the early 19th century, I think they’re coming back into style: jewellery shops and designers like Catbird, Wendy Brandes, Kat & Bee and Alice Magnin (just to name a few!) have all recently released rings incorporating memento mori designs. But, alas, none with a wondrfully weird two-faced design like the ring above.
Via The Ashmolean Museum.
Elsewhere on The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things:
- Wedding dress made from WWII parachute
- Cleaning the elephant skin
- Bejeweled bug larvae by Hubert Duprat
- Cornelia Parker’s dust earplugs
- Eight-legged walking doll from 19th c
- She lived inside someone’s locket
- 17th century palm reading chart