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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

© Manfred Bischoff
German, born 1947
"René Descartes" Ring
Mirrored glass, coral, gold, and copper alloy

1¾ x 1⅜ x 1 inch

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of the Morgan Foundation in honor of Catherine Asher Morgan

Arts of Europe

Manfred Bischoff’s jewelry surprises and challenges the viewer with its imagery: poetic and tender, confrontational and intellectual. Since the late 1980s, Bischoff has turned precious and semiprecious metals, stones, and coral into figures, fauna, and other ambiguous shapes that inhabit his own peculiar world.

For the "René Descartes" Ring, Bischoff employs a recurring motif, the skull. To him, skulls represent life, not death. A skull carved from coral is suspended in a mirror attached to two bands of gold. In order to see the skull, the wearer must look in the mirror. From this perspective, both the face of the skull and the face of the wearer are simultaneously visible.

The ring is accompanied by a watercolor and ink drawing. Its only text is the name of the French philosopher René Descartes, a revolutionary thinker who questioned and changed prevailing attitudes about the relationship between philosophy and theology. His most famous statement, “I think, therefore I am,” is the underlying subject of Bischoff’s ring.