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Home > Auctions > 23rd May 2023 > Post Medieval Gold 'Live Life to the Full' Decorated Posy Ring

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LOT 0412

Sold for (Inc. bp): £3,380

3/4 in. (2.08 grams, 19.25 mm overall, 17.40 mm internal diameter (approximate size British M 1/2, USA 6 1/4, Europe 13.09, Japan 12)).

Composed of a decoratively notched hoop divided into chased rhomboidal panels displaying foliate tendrils and horizontal hatching alternately; the interior inscribed in Roman capitals with the Latin phrase: 'x x x x VIVE x VT x VIVAS'. [No Reserve]

Acquired on the UK antiques market between 1974-1985.
Albert Ward collection, Essex, UK.

Cf. The Portable Antiquities Scheme Database, record ids. KENT-1F5049 and DUR-23C436, for other rings with this inscription; cf. The V&A Museum, accession number M.75-1960, for a similar design exterior dated 16th century A.D.

The literal translation here is "live that you may live", but is meant to convey the sentiment: "live life to the fullest".

In the medieval period many rings bore posy inscriptions in Latin or French, the languages frequently spoken by the affluent elites. Later, inscriptions in English became more usual, although the lack of standardisation in spelling might surprise the modern reader. The inscription is generally found on the interior of the ring, hidden to everyone except the wearer and most of the sentimental mottoes were taken from the popular literature of the time. In fact, love inscriptions often repeat each other, which suggests that goldsmiths used stock phrases. In the later 16th century, ‘posy’ specifically meant a short inscription. A posy is described in contemporary literature as a short ‘epigram’ of less than one verse. George Puttenham (1589) explained that these phrases were not only inscribed on finger rings, but also applied to arms and trenchers. The practice of giving rings engraved with mottoes at betrothals or weddings was common in England from the 16th century onwards, and continued until the late 18th century. Sources suggest that rings could be acquired ready- engraved, or alternatively engraved sometime after their initial production, by a hand other than the goldsmith’s. Joan Evans assumed that posy rings were principally used by/between lovers and distinguished four contexts for the giving of posy rings by one lover to another: betrothals, weddings, St Valentine’s Day and occasions of mourning. Samuel Pepys’ diary makes clear that posy rings might also mark the marriage of a family member, when bearers could even commission their own rings and chose their own mottoes from books. The rings could also function as tokens of friendship or loyalty.