(K. Brent Tomer),
A MODEST, 15th-century silver ring for which an ambitious London dealer might ask £1,000 sold for an astonishing £297,000 at TimeLine Auctions on February 25th, a world auction record for a medieval European ring. There could not be a better example of the degree to which a stellar provenance affects the market value of an object: It was suggested, with the aid of documents sold with the ring, that the original owner of Lot 1220 was Joan of Arc, who led the French army against English invaders, a martyr and patron saint of France.
The high bidder was Puy du Fou, a history theme-park in central France created by Phillipe de Villiers. French media erupted in exclamation marks. Honour is saved! The ring is coming home! Hearts may swell and eyes tear; facts, however, remain. Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say, an insufficiency of facts. There is a scarcity of the sort of archival evidence—wills, inventories, letters, diary entries—that scholars need to produce a solid provenance. And yet the conviction that Lot 1220 was Joan’s has taken hold. It is a tale in which politics, mistaken identity, passion, hope and mystery all play a…Continue reading