Over the course of his lifetime, Freud made gifts of more than twenty rings set with ancient gems bearing images from Greek and Roman mythology. He himself wore, at different points in his life, more than one of the rings from the collection. The rings on display in the exhibition represent the three main groups of recipients of Freud’s rings: psychoanalysts who were members of the “committee” (the Ferenczi ring); psychoanalysts to whom Freud wished to express his gratitude (the Simmel ring); and psychoanalysts who had undergone analysis with Freud and of whom he was particularly fond (the Rosenfeld ring).
What role did the rings play in Freud’s world and in the world of those who wore them? What does the iconography of each ring tell about the recipient’s position in Freud’s world? Were these gifts of the usual kind, or should these signet rings, at least some of them, be regarded as “symbols of authority” that were lent to functionaries in the “royal court” of psychoanalysis in its initial years? In what way did the rings bind their new owners to Freud the man and to his teachings? Did the objects that Freud transferred to his students prove to be an efficient means of creating personal allegiance, group cohesiveness, and institutional belonging? Did the recipients of the rings live up to the expectations that Freud had of them? Moreover, which of the recipients actually wore the rings and who preferred to store his ring in the trunk of his car? Who bequeathed his ring to his heirs and who was buried with it? Which ring did Freud ask to be returned to him? And who received the highest honor of all: to be granted a ring that Freud had removed from his very own finger in order to present it as a gift? “Freud’s rings” raise a series of historiographic questions, of which only some can be answered. Nevertheless, it is our belief that any attempt to place “Freud of the rings” in his autobiographical, sociological, iconographical, or discursive context should rise above the merely anecdotal and shed light on the image of Freud and psychoanalysis in our time, whether on the cultural level or on the personal intellectual level.