A very rare and whimsical Harlequin or carnival mask ring in 9k gold. Charming, naturally occurring clear “eyes” in a slice of striated agate peek out from a gently heart-shaped mask of black glass. The black glass plaque, set in gold, is surrounded by 23 foil-backed cabochon Harlequin opals. An artist has skillfully taken advantage of the natural formation of the stone to inspire this unique creation. Enigmatic at first, one need only consult numerous paintings from 18th century France and Italy to find its inspiration in the masquerade balls of the era.
Georgians loved amusement and the Venetian style masquerade ball became so much the rage that the trend spread rapidly across Europe, and most especially to France. Inspired by the Comedia dell’ Arte and its most colorful character “Arlequino” – the harlequin – masked balls started in the Renaissance in Venice. The character of the harlequin even makes an appearance in Dante’s Inferno as ‘Alichino’, a name which derives its meaning from medieval French ‘hellequin’, or ghost, so those who see a ghost’s eyes staring back from this ring are not incorrect. Arlechino is best known for his colorful costume, which changed over time: at first, his clothes were made of a bizarre mixture of colored pieces of cloth representing a patchwork of rags; later he is clad in a suit covered with lozenges in a rainbow of colors. His mask was thought to have been originally made of waxed cardboard covering the face completely, it then became a half-face leather mask which extended upward to just beneath the eyebrows allowing the character an expressive look of a creature that is half demon, half clown.
A further interpretation of the carnival mask was the Moretta or Servetta Muta (trans: dumb maid-servant): a black velvet, oval shaped mask that was worn by Venetian ladies. Covering all but the outer edge of the face, the Moretta was secured to the wearer by way of a small bit that was held in place by the teeth. By the 18th century the use of the Bauta and Moretta masks to conceal the identity of ladies and gentlemen in the gambling houses (Il Ridotti) of Venice had become commonplace.
Arlequino is frequently pictured with his lady love, Columbina, and it would not be too far off to assume that this ring was a whimsical gift of love and amusement from a fun-loving gentleman to the lady of his affection.
Other examples of harlequin masks both in jewelry and porcelain snuffboxes can be found, but we have never seen one so unique as this. Without a doubt, a one of a kind collector’s piece.
Hallmarks: The ring is hallmarked with an 18th century letter mark, possibly an “L” for 1751, and a French guaranty mark for 9k gold.
Gross weight: 4.3 grams
Size 6 US
Condition: Good condition. The opals show light abrasions consistent with age and use. Two opals are significantly chipped (at ‘8 o’clock’ and ‘2 o’clock’) but their bases remain intact so the effect is not spoiled. The black glass has two clearly visible nicks. One side of the ring shows some wear to the gold.
Rings in the same spirit are pictured in Diana Scarisbrick’s book “Rings: Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty” on pages 260 and 266, and on pages 204, 211, 212
Provenance: from a sale of an important collection of rings, Sotheby’s, “Important Silver, Gold Boxes and Objets de Vertu”, London, June 7, 2007.