“You’ll have me but as a cold and lifeless corpse” whispers Leonora while sipping the lethal poison kept in her ring.
These words lead us through one of the final scenes of “Il Trovatore”, a wonderful opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi.
The beautiful Leonora, who is desperate for her beloved Manrico’s death sentence at the hands of the Count di Luna, swears to the latter that she will be marrying him only if he will set Manrico free to walk away. Nevertheless, her promise is nothing but a lie: she eventually takes the poison secretly hidden in her ring and dies in her Trobadour’s arms.
I remember watching this opera back in 2001, at the Verona Arena. I was 14.
And right in that moment, while I was being lulled by the gentle music of the melodrama, I first learned about the enchanting existence of poison rings.
Poison rings became popular in Europe during 16th century but their origins are to be found in the East. They featured a hidden container that would cautiously keep the lethal substance. This secret compartment was placed either under the bezel or beneath the stone that, when needed, had to be broken.
Over time this type of rings lost its original deadly purpose to become a more ordinary jewel (although it still is quite unusual in modern times). By then, the secret compartment would no longer be excessively concealed and in most cases became part of the bezel itself.
Since the ring wasn’t meant to further hide lethal poisons, it became a discreet and personal miniature casket to carry along the memory of a beloved person (a lock of hair for example), smelling salts or scented fragrances, pills, secret messages, reliquaries and anything precious that could be kept in such a small space.
This is not the first time we get across this type of jewel: who came to visit us in the past may recall some Jewish wedding ring we happen to find from time to time. They too hide a compartment beneath the house-shaped lid (which symbolizes happiness and wealth for the couple) inside which a little portion of the ketubah (the marriage contract) or smelling sweet spices were put to sanctify the rite.
Who knows what tiny treasures have been hidden in the ring we want to tell you about.
Originally manufactured in the Middle East, the ring is made in silver and silver filigree. The hidden square-shaped compartment is concealed by a hinged, exquisitely decorated lid.
Those who are familiar with us know that we feel like the Sherlock Holmes of antiques – both research and cataloguing are among the most intriguing parts of this job -: through the magnifier we carefully observed the silver hallmarks finding out that during its existence the ring got imported in France at the end of the 19th century. More specifically the silver was assayed in Paris between 1890 and 1891 (for further details please see the data sheet).
After so much travelling the ring eventually got to Venice and is now waiting for both a new destination and for new little secrets to conceal.
Weight: 4,4 g
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