Subject Area

Art History/Criticism/Conservation


This thesis explores the production of amuletic rings in the Italian peninsula following the arrival of Yersinia pestis during the mid-fourteenth century. By examining patterns of ornamentation on a selection of Italian rings, I establish connections to the trauma experienced by individuals left in the wake of the plague and argue that these objects offered a sacralized model of protective adornment to counteract the threat of a fatal and seemingly unstoppable illness. Italian amuletic rings can thereby be read as a material response to the anxieties of mass death and bodily horrors that accompanied outbreaks of the Black Death.

The labile nature of the medieval amuletic object is such that the combination of potent materiality, protective charm formulae, and comforting material beauty could offer protection on multiple fronts. Amuletic rings collapsed the potentiality of the natural world and divine forces into a compact object that allowed their bearer to engage with the workings of the universe on their terms. Compounding apotropaic and prophylactic properties into amuletic rings produced a physical panacea that could actively adapt to the needs of their owner. It is through their ability to augment the body and invoke the wonders of the universe that I present these rings as a tactile and phenomenological device utilized to alleviate the anxieties that emerged in the midst of a plague that thinned the barriers between life and death.

Degree Date

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Abbey Stockstill

Second Advisor

Randall Griffin

Third Advisor

Stephanie Langin-Hooper

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License