Have you ever been intrigued at the use of certain shapes in art, architecture and literature? To me, art history, in particular, is a fascinating subject. If you go back to the beginning, to the first pieces of work that have been discovered, and then move forward in time step by step, you can see how well art reflects all societies in history. It shows simple details like clothing, hair styles, and daily life and it also explains more abstract things like religious views, philosophical ideas, and the gradual gaining of an understanding of the natural world. In order to relate these ideas, shapes were used symbolically. One of the most popular shapes was the circle.
Most commonly used to represent unity, infinity, motion, and perfection, the circle is found prominently in all forms of art and literature. Think, for instance, of Stonehenge, the Halo in Christian art, interlacing in Islamic and Celtic art, the ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings“. In ancient Egypt the circle was “the ultimate symbol of fertility and the feminine”. (1) Native North Americans have a Medicine Wheel, Buddhists refer to the Wheel of Life, in India, a statue of Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, is shown within a dance circle, and let’s not forget the Zodiac (from the Greek, Zodiakos, meaning circle)…known the world over.
One of the oldest ways in which the circle has been part of our lives is through the ring, a tradition embraced by almost all people. Rings started simply, being forged from precious metals, and then slowly designs and gem stones were added to them. In many ancient cultures the ring was a symbol of eternity.
It had no beginning and no end, like time. It returned to itself, like life; and the shape was worshipped in the form of the Sun and the Moon. The hole in the center of the ring is not just space either; it is important in its own right as the symbol of the gateway, or door; leading to things and events both known and unknown. (2)
Its not surprising then, that it eventually became a symbol of love and marriage. The betrothal ring originally started being used in Ancient Rome. In ancient Greece it was also used to signify prestige. There are magic rings dating back to ancient Egypt, Papal rings, and healing rings. Now we wear rings for adornment or symbolically, or a little of both.
I love rings. I don’t wear a lot of them but enjoy wearing ones that have special meaning; a ring from a love, or a grandmother who has passed away, or one that symbolizes a special time in my life. I also love artsy rings made by an artisan with unique features and stones. As I sat, a little while ago, looking at the ring I’m wearing and then at a bare finger that is shouting for a ring – the perfect one I’ve been searching for – I was reminded of certain shapes in art, architecture, and literature…