The Ralph Harari Collection of Finger Rings by John Boardman Diana Scarisbrick



Publisher: Thames & Hudson (1977). Pages: 149

Finger rings call upon the arts of the goldsmith. Engraver, and jeweler. They are objects which, from antiquity6, have been regarded as so highly personal that they can carry and confer personal authority, either in themselves of by use as signets; they can be credited with magical or amuletic properties; and as purely decorative jewelry they have been given, exchanged and worn, by men and women, to the present day. The tradition is a continuous one – from the Egyptian ring with its hieroglyphic inscription, the Etruscan scarab on its swivel ring, the Classical Greek gold signet, and Roman ring with engraved stone, to the heraldic rings of Byzantium and of Renaissance and modern Europe; from the rings conferred and worn by Popes and Cardinals to the English posy ring or lover’s gift. The collection presented here demonstrates all these uses with prime examples.

Ralph Harari, soldier and diplomat, died in 1969. To a notable and exciting career in public service he added an interest in art and collecting which he indulged with singular perception and taste. He acquired important collections of Japanese drawings and paintings; of Beardsley drawings; and also of finger rings. These, drawn part;ly from private purchase and partly from the sales of older collections, include examples from such important cabinets as the Marlborough, Southesk, Guilhou, Pichon and Tysziewicz. As a result, the strength of the collection lies in its Greek gold rings, European heraldic rings, and Renaissance decorative rings, but the range and quality of the pieces demonstrate the arts of the jeweler and engraver in many different periods and lands, from the ancient Egyptian to the neo-Classical, from the European to Islamic. The collection is augmented by examples of engraved gems, many of which were made for setting in rings.

The descriptive catalogue, with discussion and enlarged photographs of every item, has been prepared by John Boardman, author of several books on ancient gem engraving, and Diana Scarisbrick, herself a collector. With 382 illustrations, 10 in color.




Greek Intaglios.

Greek Rings.

Etruscan Scarabs and Rings.

Hellenistic, Italic, and Roman Rings.

Hennenistic, Italic, and Roman Intaglios and Cameos.

Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian.

Sassanian Intaglios.

Byzantine and Merovingian Rings and Gems.

Signet Rings with Heraldic and Personal Devices. .

Signet Rings with Ancient and Later Intaglios.

Rings Set with Gems and Intaglios.

Medieval and Later Engraved Gems.

Religious and Other Subjects.

Commeso Pendant.

Oriental Rings and Engraved Gems.

The Plates.

Index and Principal Inscriptions.

REVIEW: Sir John Boardman, FBA, is Emeritus Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art in the University of Oxford. His many books include “The History of Greek Vases” (2006) “The Oxford History of Classical Art” (1997), “The Oxford History of the Classical World” (1986) and “The World of Ancient Art” (2006).

REVIEW: Diana Scarisbrick is a noted jewelry historian and author of a number of books, including "Finger Rings: Ancient to Modern" (2006) and "Rings: Miniature Monuments to Love, Power and Devotion" (2014). Claudia Wagner, a senior researcher at Oxford University’s Beazley Archive, wrote "The Marlborough Gems" (2009) with Sir John Boardman, the third co-author of this book. Boardman is Emeritus Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art at the University of Oxford. He also authored "Greek Gems and Finger Rings" (2001), "The World of Ancient Art" (2006), and "Greek Art" (2012) among other titles.


REVIEW: Although the present catalogue is issued in the same format as Boardman's earlier works on the “lonides Collection” (1968) and “On Intaglios and Rings from a Private Collection” (1975) , it differs from these in its arrangement. Here there is no introductory text but the catalogue entries are longer and written in a more relaxed and discursive style. Furthermore the wide range of material assembled by the late Ralph Harari has resulted in the wise decision to include here later gems and rings.

For most readers Boardman’s descriptions of the ancient gems and finger rings will be of primary interest. Some of the pieces have been discussed by him before, although few were previously adequately illustrated. Moreover he has not hesitated to reverse his earlier judgments where necessary. Thus a fifth century scaraboid showing a rolling horse is transferred from the common to the fine style and incidentally is nice juxtaposed with a fine style scarab which depicts a plump sow. There are some good fifth and fourth century rings with engraved bezels. An Artemis riding upon a stag is especially striking; another device shows Hermes fastening wings (not winged sandals as Boardman once thought to his feet.

Many of the most important items date from the Hellenistic age. An unfinished chalcedony tabloid which once belonged to Adolf Furtwangler is illustrated adequately for the first time. All the stages of intaglio cutting are represented from the preliminary sketching with a diamond point to the blocking out and modeling of the figural design. A first century intaglio showing Eros with an enormous cornucopia is a real masterpiece and Boardman rightly in the opinion of this reviewer, sees no reason why this should not have been cut by Aufos. The signature AYAOY was thought to be modern by Furtwangler but Boardman thinks the signature might simply be unfinished. In any case Eros here js very similar to one, bound beside a trophy, on an amethyst in the British Museum where the signature is not in doubt. A winged figure standing on a globe seems to be the moon goddess syncretized with Nike; Boardman might have mentioned the appearance of a frontal Victoria standing on a globe on coins struck soon after the Battle of Actium, at which time indeed our intaglio may have been cut.

The reviewer is less inclined to see the sphinx as an allusion to Roman history; most commentators believe that the seated sphinx on eastern cistophori and aurei of Augustus reflects the device on his seal ring. Later in date, probably Julio-Claudian although still late Hellenistic in style, is the jasper showing a bust of Nike holding a stylus or graver with which to record the news of a victory; she plucks at her chiton, a gesture which as Boardman comments properly belongs to Nemesis. So does the gem refer to the Roman armies avenging a past defeat? The owner of the intaglio was, however, a Greek by the name of Polydeukes.

It would be a mistake for even the most dedicated classicist to ignore Diana Scarisbrick's contribution which makes up the second half of the volume. Her entries, of equal quality to Boardman’s and perhaps even more engagingly written, highlight the continuity of the jeweler's art from late antiquity until modern times. Robert Wilkins' photographs are as magnificent as ever, and they provide a model of how small objects should be illustrated. It says much for Harari 's taste and acumen that this book is, in many respects, the best introduction available to the development of gems and rings. It is sad that the collection has now been sold and will never again be available for study in its entirety. We should be grateful to Boardman and Scarisbrick for making and publishing such a full record and hope that the publisher's very high price will not deter serious student from adding it to their shelves. [Martin Henig, Oxford Institute of Archaeology].

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