Media and Art

House rings

I feel I owe you.  Yesterday you were such patient little ducks as I waxed poetic about…..sweat, and I’m sure sweating isn’t as interesting to all as it is to me.  I’m easily fascinated.  I’m sluttish in my ease of fascination, I really am.

So today, let’s talk about something cool (cooler than sweating, which is nature’s way of cooling down the body, you know.)  We’re going to take a look at “house rings.”

House rings, the melding of architecture and jewelry, fascinate me almost as much as sweating.  We can’t discuss house rings, however,  without beginning with Jewish marriage rings.  Are Jewish marriage rings the basis for modern house rings?  Who knows!  But it’s my blog, and so we’re starting there because I really want you to see these.  They’re magnificent.

Historically, all Jewish marriage rings were not “house rings,”  but the type which featured a bezel built to look like a building was extraordinarily beautiful and in use for about four hundred years.  Unfortunately, not many of these examples exist, as they were used during a period of history plagued with plagues, for which the Jews were often blamed as the cause.

L-R:  German, medieval ; German or central Europe 18-19th century, Italy, c1300
L-R: German, medieval ; German or central Europe 18-19th century, Italy, c1300

As town after town succumbed to various plagues and the populace panicked, pogroms took place.  Assuming the Jews had cursed the Christians or poisoned town wells, a city’s Jews were killed or driven from their homes.  Aware of their position of scapegoat and the possibility of pogrom, many Jews buried their valuables in hopes they could return at some point to reclaim their possessions.  Digging up the yards of recently vacated Jewish homes was a normal occurrence, and much history of the Jewish culture has been lost because of this practice.  However, finds do still turn up as ancient cities continue to thrive,  and modern owners renovate and repair their homes and properties.

L-R:  17-18 c (Zucker Family Collection), Italy, 16c
L-R: 17-18 c (Zucker Family Collection), Italy, 16c

These highly ornate rings were ceremonial, used only at the couple’s wedding, and thought to be owned by the community or passed down in families.  The building on top is perhaps meant to represent the Temple of Jerusalem, but more likely represents the couple’s future home.  In some versions the roof was hinged, and opened to reveal a tiny golden Torah scroll. Often enameled, never bejeweled, the metal standing in for the traditional coin the groom proffered his bride.

Now that we’ve seen the granddaddy of house rings (the Sabba of house rings?), let’s look at the modern take on this idea.

Today’s house rings range from wildly overblown and impractical, to rusticly simple.

A french designer,  Phillipe Tournaire, created this series of architectural rings in 18k gold and platinum, miniature versions of real buildings.

Clockwise from top left: Villa Chinoise, Palace Pierre de Lune, Chalet, Villa Romane,  Florida
Clockwise from top left: Villa Chinoise, Palace Pierre de Lune, Chalet, Villa Romane, Florida

In her series “Las Casitecturas,” Spanish artist Silvia Walz takes the idea of architecture and plays with it as metaphor.  Walz writes, ” The ‘Casitecturas’  become receptacles of feelings and impressions.  Small labyrinths of the memory, which invite to imaginary interior walks.”  Her “house rings” are poetic, narrative floorplans.

La torre de Isabel, Piso de Alberto,  El sobreatico de Heinrich
La torre de Isabel, Piso de Alberto, El sobreatico de Heinrich

J Davis and Betsy Benson take a more rustic, quaint approach, in sterling:

R-L: Betsy Benson, J Davis
R-L: Betsy Benson, J Davis

And my favorite of the contemporary house rings: British artist Vicki Ambery-Smith.   While Tournaire’s structures are all business, Ambery-Smith’s are a bit more whimsical.  Her feminine version of his masculine.  A bit of out-of-proportion detail, a bit of curve where an architect wouldn’t allow it, these structures are interpretations, and encourage the wearer to imagine.  Much of Ambery-Smith’s collection is influenced by architecture, and I really urge you to go take a look!

Vicki Ambery-Smith
Vicki Ambery-Smith

And to end where we began: Jewish marriage rings.  While architectural rings are no longer the norm, I found one artist who is creating simple versions of house rings to be used during wedding ceremonies.

Mila Tanya Griebel is a British silversmith, highly respected for her silver Judaica.  A contemporary version of an ancient tradition.

Mila Tanya Griebel
Mila Tanya Griebel

6 thoughts on “House rings

  1. Hi Katie – I realize that you wrote this piece 2.5 years ago, but I just found it. I’ve been trying to learn more about Jewish house rings – how/where were they used?; do we anything about how they were used in the wedding ceremony?; etc. I can’t find much on the Internet – though did find references to the details you included in your blog. Do you have any info sources to recommend (re Jewish house rings)?

  2. A friend said she had seen your web site .
    Thank you for encluding my rings (sorry about the quality of picture) Interesting artical . Just to let you know , The Jewish Museum NY ,bought these rings for their collection , plus another one ” Marriage…I would rather have a cup of tea !” Which is in their current exibition ‘reinventing the ritual”
    Best wishes for the future Mila

  3. The Jewish rings are so exquisite. I also have never heard of them. The color of gold seems different from modern jewelry too, although hard to say from the images. Thanks for your little art lessons, Katie 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! I’m just so glad that you guys find it interesting!

      The color of the gold…..Those examples were all listed at “gold” in all the references I checked, and that would indicate they were 100% gold, or 24k (at the time those pieces were made gold was not yet being alloyed, and the karat system was not in place).

      Pictures and lighting can really change the look of the metal! The one in the top picture, on the left, is the most recently discovered, and a good representation of how full gold looks. In person, they probably all look like that!

  4. Love this information, as a half-breed never knew this…must discuss further with my sister-in-law, thank you for the history lesson and the lovely examples!

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