Poll. 7.209), the art of engraving gems or hard stones (for the uses of the
words γλύφειν, χαράσσειν, κολάπτειν,
2.167 ff. and Lexicons).
The present article deals only with the methods and history of the art of gem
engraving. Some account of the minerals employed will be found s. v. GEMMA; and of the manner in which gems were worn,
s. v. ANULUS
The technical Methods of Gem Engraving.
The gems first employed were of soft materials, such as steatite, and
could be engraved either with metal tools, or with pieces of harder
stones, such as obsidian. The Ethiopians tipped their arrows with a
sharpened stone, τῷ καὶ τὰς σφρηλῖδας
(cf. Hdt. 7.69
nearly all engraved gems were too hard for instruments of metal; cf.
Pliny, of the topaz: “sola nobilium limam sentit”
37.109). Accordingly, the different methods,
of gem engraving are methods for applying minute fragments of a very
hard material, in order to produce the desired effect on the gem to be
engraved. The ancient modes of procedure were very similar to those of
the modern engraver.
The diamond was sometimes used set in a pencil. Thus, Pliny, Plin. Nat. 37.60
: minute diamond
splinters “expetuntur scalptoribus ferroque includuntur nullam non
duritiem ex facili cavantes.” So also Solinus says of the
hyacinth, “adamante scribitur et notatur” (100.30, p. 152).
Sometimes minute dust of diamonds or Naxian emery powder was mixed with
oil, and applied by friction (cf. Dioscor. 5.165, σμύρις λίθος ἐστίν, ᾗ τὰς ψήφους οἱ δακτυλιογλύφοι
Cf. Hesych. sub
and Blümner, Technologie,
This might be done by rubbing the mixture on the stone either with a
blunt metal pencil worked with the hand, or by a mechanically revolving
tool. This tool might either be a drill worked with a bow (like the
modern watchmaker's drill; cf. Cat. of Gems in the British
Pl. E, No. 305) or might consist of a minute
revolving wheel, such as is used by the modern dentist, but fixed in a
lathe. The various methods are briefly indicated by Pliny, Plin. Nat. 37.200
differentia est ut aliae (gemmae) ferro scalpi non possint”
(cannot be carved with a metal tool), “aliae non nisi
retunso” (only with a blunt pencil, to rub in emery),
“omnes autem adamante” (with the diamond point);
“plurumum vero in iis terebrarum proficit fervor” (the
use of the drill).
A knowledge of the different methods above enumerated is a considerable
help in distinguishing the periods of gems, as different kinds of
technique prevailed at different times. The drill is much used in the
early “island gems” and in the Etruscan scarabs, further
described below. It had either a pointed end, which made hemispherical
depressions, or a tubular end which produced ring-like grooves. The
latter form only occurs in the gems of the islands. On a larger scale it
may be traced on the architectural [p. 2.602]
from Mycenae. (Cf. also Class. Review,
1889, p. 374.)
In gems of the later Greek period the drill was supplanted by the wheel,
which bit into the stone with its cutting edge. At the best time the
whole of the interior of the design was afterwards carefully worked over
with the blunt point (ferrum retunsum
emery powder, so as to obliterate the traces of the drill or of the
wheel. In late Roman gems, executed hastily with the wheel, the cuts are
very apparent. It is often possible to count the number of cuts that
have been taken with the wheel. The diamond pencil was only used for the
finest work, such as the hair and for the minute final touches.
Splinters of ostracias, a word of unknown meaning, were also employed
like the diamond point (Plin. Nat.
). For a full account of the gem engravers' methods, with
illustrations, see Mariette, Traité des Pierres
vol. i. p. 195; Natter,
Méthode de graver en Pierres fines;
iii. p. 279.
History of Gem Engraving.
In taking a historical survey of Greek gems, we first have to consider
the stones associated with the Mycenaean period of culture. These gems
are usually known by the inappropriate title of “gems of the
islands” (German, Inselsteine
). They are found
at Mycenae (Schliemann, Mycenae,
539-541; Ἐφ. ἀρχαιολογική,
10), and in the closely-allied deposits of Menidi (Lolling,
Kuppelgrab bei Menidi,
pl. vi.) and Spata
(Bull. de Corr. Hellén.
2.1878, p. 224).
They are also found in the islands of the Aegean, as Melos
(Mittheilungen des Inst. Athen.
1886, pl. vi.) and at
Ialysos in Rhodes (Cat. of Gems in the Brit. Mus.
104-8). The stones are for the most part of one of two forms, either lenticular
(i. e. beanshaped) or glandular
(in the form of the slingbolt). The
material most frequently used is
steatite, which is comparatively soft; but instances occur of
the use of jasper, agate, crystal, and similar hard stones. Figs. 1-3
represent three “island gems.” Figs. 1 and 2 are from
Menidi, and represent respectively a gryphon and two lions. Fig. 3 is
from Melos, and represents a winged Triton and a fish.
The importance of this class of gems lies in the fact that they show a
continuity of development between the periods of Mycenae and of
historical Greece. On the one hand, they are found in Mycenaean graves,
and occasionally reproduce the characteristic motives of
Mycenaean sculpture (comp. the gems, Brit. Mus. Cat.
A, 106, and Ἐφ. ἀρχ.
1888, pl. 10,
fig. 2, with the Gate of Lions); on the other hand, gems of the same
style and forms as the preceding are found with Greek mythological
types, which, it is to be noted, do not occur at Mycenae. (See above,
fig. 3.) Among the types that occur are figures of Pegasos (Brit.
21-26, pl. A); of a winged Gorgon
(Mittheil. des Inst. Athen.
Abth. 1886, pl. vi. fig.
13); Heracles and Nereus (Brit. Mus. Cat.
pl. A, 82); a
Centaur (Brit. Mus. Cat.
84; Arch. Zeit.
1883, pl. xvi. fig. 16); and Prometheus (?), on a gem of the late
Admiral Spratt. Moreover, these gems are found at Melos, in company with
early Greek inscriptions, vases, and terra-cottas, which fix the date of
the tombs in which they are found as from the seventh to the fifth
century. Until the place is ascertained. where the gems in question were
manufactured, the question must remain somewhat doubtful; but it seems
possible that we have in the “island gems” the products of
an art which was able to resist the injury commonly supposed to have
been caused by Dorian invaders to the more ambitious arts of Mycenae. It
is to be observed that the hardest materials are most frequent at the
earliest period--a fact that suggests an art passing through a period of
decadence. (Cf. Milchhoefer, Die Anfänge der Kunst in
p. 39; Furtwaengler and Loeschcke,
Duemmler, in Mittheil. des
1886, p. 170.)
Though the class of gems just described was continuous till historical
times, yet it survived as an isolated phenomenon; and for the general
history of Greek and Etruscan gem engraving we start from an independent
When the Greeks and Etruscans in historical times were brought into
contact with Oriental customs, by the agency of the Phoenicians, they
were introduced to two forms of gems which were of great antiquity;
namely, the cylinder of Babylonia and Assyria, and the scarabaeus of
Egypt. The cylinder was perforated longitudinally for suspension by a
cord, or more rarely mounted on a swivel, and had a device engraved
round it. It had been used in Babylonia as a seal from time immemorial;
but the form did not attract the Greeks or Etruscans, and instances are
very rare in which it occurs. We find it principally in deposits
immediately subject to Oriental influences, as at Camiros, in Rhodes
(Brit. Mus. Cat.
132); in Cyprus (Cesnola, pl. 4.1,
2); and at Tharros, in Sardinia (Brit. Mus. Cat.
instance can be quoted by the present writer in which the cylinder has
been found in Etruria. The only Greek example known to him was found at
Kertch, in a grave of the fourth century (Compte-rendu,
1868, pl. 1). King (Antique Gems and Rings,
i. p. 48)
describes a cylinder in the Hertz Cell. (Sale Cat.
407) engraved by a Greek artist, but immediately under Persian
The scarabaeus, on the other hand, is intimately connected with the
history of Greek gem engraving, and still more so with that of Etruscan
gem engraving. It owes its origin to Egyptian theology, in which the
Egyptian beetle, Scarabaeus sacer,
ball of mud containing its eggs, was emblematic of the deity Kheper, [p. 2.603]
the principle of light, and the creative power
of nature. Plutarch (de Iside,
x.) mentions the beetle,
adding that it was worn as a seal by warriors, as being only of the male
sex. From its religious significance the scarab became a sacred emblem
and amulet, and from early times was buried with the Egyptian dead.
As a rule the base of the scarab, in Egypt, contains some simple
hieroglyphic inscription, such as the name of a king or of a private
person. The materials most commonly used were steatite or porcelain. But
we are only concerned with the scarab when it had been adopted as a
conveniently shaped object for the engraver outside Egypt, and when all
idea of its sacred significance had been forgotten.
When worn, the scarab was either strung on a string, or set in a ring
with a swivel (cf. cut, s. v. ANULUS
and the account of the ring of Gyges, Plat.
2.359); or it was set in an immovable
box-setting of gold, and formed part of a ring. They were also set, in
large numbers, in necklaces and jewellery.
The form of the scarab was probably communicated to the Western nations
by the Phoenicians, although recent discoveries at Naucratis suggest
that the Greeks were also agents. At Camiros, in Rhodes, a considerable
number of scarabaei have been discovered, probably of Phoenician import.
They are made principally of porcelain, and are distinguished from their
Egyptian prototypes by the blundered hieroglyphics, frequently
meaningless, and by remarkable instances of the introduction of Assyrian
The same characteristic indications of Phoenician work present themselves
among the scarabaei of Tharros, in Sardinia; but there the hieroglyphics
are fewer in number: a new material, green jasper, is introduced, and
Greek mythological subjects occur. The scarabs of Tharros are therefore
of Phoenician (or rather, of Carthaginian) style, combined with Greek
elements. It is moreover probable that they belong to a late date, in
many instances to the second century B.C. (Brit. Mus.
Introd. p. 13). When the scarabaeus had been imported into
Etruria by the Phoenicians, it took firm hold of the national taste--for
what precise reasons cannot be explained, but probably only because the
form was convenient and attractive. It enters largely into the designs
of their jewellery, e. g. necklaces, and is worn on rings. Thus the
recumbent figure of Seianti Thanunia in the British Museum
i. pl. 20) has her
fingers loaded with rings, set with scarabs, as already described.
In the earliest Etruscan tombs only the imported Egyptian or Phoenician
scarabaeus of steatite or porcelain occurs. Thus the celebrated
Polledrara tomb (near Vulci), whose contents are now in the British
Museum, contained, among other Phoenician wares, several porcelain
scarabaei. One in particular has the cartouche of king Psammetichos I.
(611 B.C.), and fixes the earliest possible date of the tomb. It also
gives a date earlier than the Etruscan scarabs proper, which were not
represented in the tomb. Etruscan scarabs are most commonly of red sard.
The beetle form of the scarab is often carved with care and realistic
accuracy. The subjects are usually taken from Greek mythology. The
inscriptions are in Etruscan, and generally give in Etruscan form the
names of the persons represented, though not always correctly. The name
of the artist never occurs, and that of the owner seldom. An example
occurs in the British Museum (Cat.
No. 341), inscribed
(Tarquinius). The Etruscan scarabs may be
divided according to their technique (see above) into two classes: (1)
gems principally engraved with the blunt tool and with emery powder,
often with much refinement and delicacy. These works are hard to
distinguish, apart from the inscriptions, from early Greek work. A
celebrated early Etruscan gem, now
Gem found at Perugia.
at Berlin, is here engraved. The design represents, with the
true feeling of archaic art, a council of five of the heroes who fought
against Thebes. The names are added, viz. Phylnice
(Adrastos), and Parthanapaes
(Winckelmann, Hist. de l'Art,
book iii. chap. 1; Toelken,
75, 76.) (2) The second kind
of Etruscan gems is executed almost entirely by the drill making small
hemispherical depressions in the intaglio, or bossy projections in the
impression. The resulting design, usually some simple subject, such as a
horse, is very rough and is often hard to distinguish. The gems are
known as gems a globolo tondo.
As we have seen, the native Etruscan scarabs are probably not older than
600 B.C. The question which of the two classes above described is the
older has been a subject of dispute; but the records of the finds,
scanty though they are, seem to show that the gems a
are the latest. The scarab carefully engraved
with the point is found in graves with vases of the blackfigured and
early red-figured styles; that is, during the fifth century. The rougher
gems a globolo tondo
are found with vases of the
fourth century and later. Thus, at Vulci, a gem of [p. 2.604]
this style, representing a satyr with a horse's tail, was
found with three red-figured vases of the fourth century; at Tharros a
similar gem was found in a tomb of the third century.
Gem Engraving in Greece.
We now turn to the history of gem engraving in historical Greece;
and, before discussing gems actually extant, we may review the
meagre information contained in ancient literature.
That which has given the strongest impulse to the art of the gem
engraver has always been the use of gems for seals. We have already
seen that gems were used for seals by Oriental nations long before
the time of Homer, and also that engraved rings and stones, such as
might well be used for seals, were found amongst the Mycenaean and
analogous deposits. But it had been already observed by Pliny (Plin. Nat. 33.12
) that the use of
seals was unknown to Homer, as they are not used in cases where they
seem required, as in Il. 6.169
The question, therefore, when the Greeks began to use seals is one
that cannot be answered from literary sources, which are also silent
with respect to the beginnings of gem engraving. There are
indications, however, that in the beginning of the sixth century
B.C. a considerable degree of proficiency in the art had been
reached. Thus Solon is said to have made a law, doubtless as a
precaution against fraud, that no engraver (δακτυλιογλύφος
) should retain an impression of a
ring that he had sold (D. L. 1.57
has been suggested [see ANULUS
] that this regulation referred to seals carved in
metal rings (e. g. Schliemann, Mycenae,
fig. 530) rather than in gems. But there is independent evidence
that gems were in use about the time of Solon (cf. fragment of
Solon, ap. Stob. 45, 9; and Theogn. Sentent.
The first gem engraver known by name was Mnesarchos of Samos, father
of Pythagoras. He must have lived about 580 B.C., and was a gem engraver of great skill, who sought
credit, rather than wealth, from his art (D. L.
; Apul. Florid.
2.15, 3). Something may
be inferred as to the character of subjects already prevalent for
engraving, from the fact that it was a special mark of the followers
of Pythagoras not to wear a god in their rings (D. L. 8.17
The second gem engraver known by name was Theodoros, son of Telecles,
an artist noted for his versatility, and author of the famous ring
of Polycrates. Pliny (Plin. Nat. 37
§ § 4, 8) describes a stone which had been placed
by Augustus in the Temple of Concord at Rome, and which was reputed
to be the gem of Polycrates; he states that it was an uncut
sardonyx. According to Herodotus (3.41
the stone was an emerald. It has been maintained that the stone was
uncut, and that the value lay in the material. This was the theory
of Lessing (Ant. Briefe,
21). But on this question
the statements of Pliny are obviously no authority, as he was merely
describing a stone supposed in his time to be that of Polycrates.
The phrase of Herodotus, (σφρηγὶς
(Her. 3.41; cf. 1.195), distinctly implies an
engraved seal, mounted in gold, and was so understood by Pausanias
7.210), and Strabo (xiv. p.638
, δακτύλιον λίθου καὶ
). Clement of Alexandria
3.246; p. 289 in Potter's ed.) states,
on what authority we do not know, that the subject was a lyre.
Theodoros seems to have been represented as a gem engraver in a
portrait statue made by himself. It is stated (Pliny, Plin. Nat. 34.83
) that in this
statue he held in the right hand a file, in the left hand
“quadrigulam tantae parvitatis ut miraculo pictam (fictam)
eam, currumque et aurigam integeret alis simul facta
musca.” This passage has been brilliantly explained by
Benndorf (Zeitschr. für Oest. Gymnasien,
1873, p. 406) to mean that Theodoros held a scarabaeus in his hand,
with a quadriga
and charioteer engraved on
its base. There is such a scarabaeus in the British Museum
(Cat. of Gems,
pl. D, 254). It should be observed
that the same story is told in almost the same words of
Myrmecides--in a context which suggests that Pliny himself did not
understand the meaning of what he was reporting: “Myrmecides
quidem .... inclaruit, quadriga ex ebore, quam musca integeret
alis fabricata, et nave quam apicula pinnis absconderet”
7.85, 36.43; cf. Aelian, Ael. VH 1.17
; Plut. adv.
44). Choeroboscos, in Bekker's
ii. p. 651, tells the story in a corrupted
form, in which the fly drew the chariot, as well as covered it, with
its wings. If we omit an uncertain allusion to one Trausias, in a
fragment of a speech by Lysias, περὶ τοῦ
and the amateur productions of Hippias, the
sophist (Apul. Flor.
ii.), there is a
break in the literary history till the time of Alexander. The
inscriptions, however, sufficiently indicate the common use of rings
and seals, and the practice of dedicating them as worthy offerings
to a deity. Compare the entries in the treasure list of the
Parthenon for 398 B.C.:
σφραγὶς χρυσοῦν δακτύλιον ἔχουσα,
Δέξιλλα ἀνέθηκε ... σφραγῖδε ὑαλίνα ποικίλα
(coloured glass pastes), περικεχρυσωμέναι,
ἁλύσεις χρυσᾶς ἔχουσαι: ὄνυξ σφραγίς, κ. τ. λ.
(C. I. G.
151 B, 50.50).
The employment of a public seal also makes its appearance. So in the
Parthenon inventories, early in the fourth century, γραμματεῖον ὑπὸ τῆς βουλῆς τῆς ἐξ Ἀρείου
p. 298). Cf. C. I. G.
τὸν τὰμίαν ἀποσ[τεῖλαι ἀντί]γραφον
τοῦδε τοῦ ψηφίσματος σημανθὲν τῇ δημοσίᾳ
So also C. I. G.
2557, 3053. The public seal seems
to have served as the seal of an official witness, or to mark an
official copy of a document. Such a seal, with the design of a
dolphin and a club, frequently occurs among a large deposit of clay
impressions of seals, found at Selinus (Atti dei Lincei,
Notizie degli Scavi,
1883, pl. vii.). The clay seals in
question served to secure wooden tablets, and the supposed public
seal is in the middle, with the seals of the parties at each side.
Before the thread fastening the tablet was severed, the contracting
parties admitted the authenticity of the seal (Cicero, in
3.5, 10; Paulus, Sententiae,
v. tit. xxv.).
The next engraver after Theodoros, of whom literary record is
preserved, is Pyrgoteles. He was chief of his craft in the time of
Alexander, as that king issued an edict, “quo vetuit in hac
gemma (zmaragdo) ab alio se scalpi, quam a Pyrgotele, non dubie
clarissimo artis eius”
). Pliny also states, in more general terms,
that Alexander decreed that Apelles alone should paint his portrait
and Pyrgoteles engrave it, and Lysippos cast it in bronze (H.
7.125). It may be conjectured that the passage first
quoted combines a prohibition and a command, and that Alexander (if
there was any truth in the story) ordered that only Pyrgoteles
should engrave his portrait, and that Pyrgoteles should engrave it
on an emerald.
The remaining engravers known to us are Apollonides and Cronius, who
were renowned, in succession to Pyrgoteles; and Dioscorides, who
made an excellent portrait of Augustus, used as a seal by Augustus
himself and by his successors (Pliny, Plin. Nat. 37.8
; Suet. Aug.
The foregoing summary of our literary information sufficiently shows
that, in writing a history of gem engraving among the Greeks, we are
obliged almost exclusively to study the gems themselves, and get
little help from the ancient writers.
Greek Gem Engraving before Alexander.
Few Greek examples, comparatively speaking, have been discovered of the
scarab; and this form, which was so universally employed by the
Phoenicians and the Etruscans, seems to have been but little used by the
Greeks. As regards the archaic period, this fact should probably be
interpreted as indicating the limited practice of the art among the
Greeks in early times, rather than as showing any special distaste for
this particular form: for if we except the gems described above, which
seem to carry on the tradition of the “gems of the
islands,” early Greek gems are almost unknown in any form except
the scarab, and its immediate derivative the scaraboid.
A few of the most important instances of scarabs proved to be Greek by
the inscriptions, as well as by the fact that they were found on Greek
soil, may here be quoted. The stones in question are inscribed either
with a sentence that admits of no ambiguity; or simply with a proper
name in the nominative or genitive case, which may be either the
signature of the artist or the name of the owner. There has been much
discussion as to the distinction between the two classes. But, while
some cases must remain doubtful, the general principle is clear. An
owner's name is naturally almost a part of the design, intended readily
to catch the eye, in the impression. An artist's signature, on the other
hand, is usually unobtrusive, and only visible if sought for. A parallel
may be found in the contrast between the conspicuous legends and the
minute signatures on a signed coin of Syracuse, or on an English
Early Stones inscribed with the names of the Owners.
1. A stone found at Aegina, with
an intaglio design of a scarabaeus with wings spread, and
inscribed Κρεοντίδα εἰμί
(Bull. dell' Inst.
1840, p. 140).
2. Scarab: Dolphin, and inscription Θέρσιος
ἠμὶ σῆμα, μή με ἄνοιγε
: from Greece
1883, pl. 16, fig. 19). 3. A plasma
scarab from Pergamon contains a lioness about to attack; above is
the inscription Ἀριστοτείχης.
Furtwaengler takes Aristoteiches for an artist, contemporary with
Semon (see below), and working about 500 B.C. But, according to the
principle enunciated above, he seems rather to have been the owner
of the seal, as the inscription is very prominent, along the top of
the field. The gem is of fine archaic work (Jahrb. des
1888, p. 194; pl. 8, fig. 2). 4. An agate scaraboid in
the British Museum (Cat. of Gems,
No. 482) contains
nothing except the name of the owner Isagoras. in large letters.
Early Gems inscribed with the names of the Artists.
The gem engravers earlier than the time of Alexander who are known by
their works have been recently enumerated and discussed by
Furtwaengler (Jahrb. des Inst.
1888, p. 194). We
quote some of the most important,
(1) The oldest gem known with an artist's signature is a modification
of the scarab form, having a satyr's head engraved in relief, in
place of the beetle. The stone in question is a steatite, in the
British Museum (Cat. of Gems,
pl. F, No. 479;
Jahrb. des Inst.
1888, pl. 8, fig. 1). On the
base is a draped and bearded citharist, and the inscription Συρίης
Furtwaengler (ib. p. 195) ascribes the work on epigraphic ground to
Euboea, and proposes a date as early as 550 B.C., i. e. between Mnesarchos and Theodoros.
(2) The true scarab form is preserved in a black jasper, found near
Troy, and now at Berlin. A nude woman kneels at a fountain, with a
spout in the form of a lion's mouth, filling her pitcher. It is
Semon has been
taken for an owner's name by Stephani and Brunn. But Furtwaengler is
probably right in taking it, on account of its inconspicuousness,
for an artist's signature. The stone is a fine specimen of archaic
work on the point of gaining full freedom. Furtwaengler places it
about 500 B.C., and it is certainly not
much later than this date (Jahrb. des Inst.
116, pl. 3, fig. 6).
Among the Greeks the details of the scarab were abandoned early,
probably in the fifth century; but the general form was retained,
which is known as the scaraboid. Scaraboidal gems have the flat base
and convex back of a scarab,: but there is no attempt whatever to
suggest the details of the beetle. The scaraboid form already occurs
amongst Phoenician products at Camiros.
There are few instances in which it seems to, have been adopted by
the artists who produced the “gems of the islands” (see
above). The most common subjects are figures of animals, of somewhat
archaic style but worked with great study of detail (Brit.
pl. B, 113, 114, &c.). The most
important work on scaraboids belongs, however, to a rather later
period, some of the finest of the Greek gems of the fifth and fourth
centuries being also engraved on scaraboids.
The scaraboid form was that employed by the most distinguished of
Greek gem engravers, known to us from his works, namely, [p. 2.606]
Dexamenos of Chios. The extant works of
Dexamenos are (1) Chalcedony scaraboid from Kertch, now in the
Hermitage. Flying heron. Inscribed, ΔΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ ΕΠΟΙΕ ΧΙΟΣ
1861, pl. 6, 10; Jahrbuch des
1888, pl. 8, fig. 9). (2) Agate scaraboid from
South Russia, now in the Hermitage. Heron standing on one leg, and
grasshopper. Inscribed, ΔΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ
pl. 3, fig. 40; Jahrbuch des Inst.
iii. pl. 8, fig.
7). (3) Chalcedony scaraboid, from Greece (?), now in the
Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. A woman seated at her toilet;
before her an
attendant with mirror and wreath. Inscribed, ΔΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ,
and with the owner's
1888, pl. 8, fig. 6). (4) A Jasper scaraboid, now
at Athens. Contains a male portrait head. Inscribed, ΔΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ ΕΠΟΙΕ
(Jahrb. des Inst.
1888, pl. 8, fig. 8). The
authenticity of this gem has been denied. Dexamenos appears to have
worked towards the close of the fifth century. He engraved animal
forms, as shown by the are first two in the above list, with
admirable delicacy and grace. In his figures, as seen in No. 3, he
is not free from a certain degree of archaic stiffness. His period
therefore is that of transition to complete freedom. He is fortunate
in the fact that three at least of his reputed works are entirely
free from doubt.
The remaining artists, known to us by their signatures, who are
assigned by Furtwaengler with fair probability to a period earlier
than Alexander, are Athenades, Olympios, Onatas (?), Pergamos,
Phrygillos. For a discussion of the works of these artists see
Furtwaengler's articles in the Jahrbuch des Inst.
1888, pp. 119, 197. Athenades is known only by an intaglio in gold
from Kertch (ib. pl. 8, fig. 3). Olympios is identified by
Furtwaengler with the author of certain signed Arcadian coins, of
about 370 B.C. (Gardner, Types,
pl. viii. fig. 32);
and Phrygillos with the author of certain coins of Syracuse of the
end of the fifth century (Weil, Künstlerinschriften
der Sicilischen Münzen,
pl. 1, figs. 9, 10).
A good example of a scaraboid inscribed with
the owner's name occurs among the Cesnola gems from Curium
pl. 40, fig. 14).
Above a figure of a horse the name ΣΤΗΣΙΚΡΑΤΗΣ
is engraved in such bold and
conspicuous characters that it cannot be mistaken for the name of an
Towards the close of the early period, forms for gems other than the
scarab and the scaraboid begin to come into use. Thus, one of the
finest early gems in the British Museum, with a figure of a
citharist, is engraved on a section of
a truncated gland (Cat. of Gems,
555). By the close of the fifth century the Greeks were beginning to
discover that a thin slice of stone produced effects by its
translucency, and economised material. The scarab and the
scaraboidal form were therefore abandoned in Greece, though adhered
to in Etruria, at Tharros, and elsewhere.
We have now reviewed the early period of Greek gem engraving. In this
art, more than in any other, those characteristics are seen which
attract the student in all archaic work. The early gems are
distinguished by a certain dainty minuteness and precision--not
because the artist is trying to be minute, but because he is taking
pains with his work, and devoting patient attention to every detail.
Nor is the work minute in the sense that the artist tries to conceal
his methods, and to obliterate all trace of the tool. When an
archaic gem is highly magnified, it is seen to be a gem enlarged and
not a group of sculpture. Further, this dainty minuteness is
combined with a measured restraint, characteristic of all archaic
work, but particularly of gems. A limited subject is concisely
rendered, and no vague compositions attempted, filled with floating
draperies, landscapes, and objects made small by distance.
Gem Engraving from the time of Alexander.
Early in the fourth century the engraver had obtained complete mastery
over his materials,, and those characteristics which clearly distinguish
the earlier gems are henceforth wanting; and accordingly it becomes
difficult (with certain notable exceptions) to assign gems with
precision to a definite point in a period of several centuries.
Moreover, in the case of gems reputed to be signed by the artist, the
matter is complicated by difficult questions as to the authenticity of
the gems and of the signatures. The course of history is marked more by
the introduction of new features, such as the cameo and portraiture,
than by a marked development of style. To some extent, however, the gems
show the influence of the spirit prevailing in the greater arts. The
artist Athenion is well known by a sardonyx cameo, now at Naples: Zeus
advances in his chariot, drawn by four horses, and overwhelms two
snake-legged giants with the thunderbolt. Signature, ΑΟΗΝΙΩΝ, [Ἀ
1888, pl. 8, fig. 19). Athenion may well have
worked at Pergamon, and have shared or imitated the spirit which
inspired the great Pergamene frieze. This is confirmed by another work
of Athenion, preserved in two copies in paste, of each of which only a
fragment survives. The two are combined in one sketch in Jahrb.
1889, p. 85. The subject may be, as Furtwaengler
suggests, Eumenes II. of Pergamon driven in a triumphal chariot by
--The development of portraiture on gems was,
for the most part, subsequent to the reign of Alexander, though a few
earlier [p. 2.607]
examples can be quoted. For example,
the disputed gem of Dexamenos, referred to above, contains a
characteristic male portrait head. Alexander himself prescribed the
manner in which his portrait was to be engraved by Pyrgoteles (see
above). But, no doubt, the custom of engraving portraits on the coins,
introduced by the early Diadochi at the end of the fourth century,
tended to develop the art of portraiture. In later times we hear of
portraits used so frequently, and for such various purposes, that there
is no occasion for surprise at the number of unidentified portraits in
all collections of gems. The portrait of Alexander was used as a signet
by Augustus (Plin. Nat. 37.10
as a family crest on the rings and other property of the Macriani (Treb.
Poll. de Quieto
). A man might have a
portrait engraved on a gem as being that of an ancestor (V. Max. 3.5
in Cat. 3.5
, 10), or of a teacher (Cic.
5.2, 4; cf. Juv. Sat.
2.6), or of a kingly patron (Plin.
Ep. ad Traj.
74, ed. Keil), or of a predecessor
(Plin. Nat. 37
. §. 8), or of
a friend (Ovid, Tristia,
1.7, 6), or of
himself (Suet. Aug. 50
). The finest
examples of portraiture were not engraved in intaglio for seals, but
were those occurring on the great cameos described below.
--Cameos are works engraved relief; intaglios have
a sunk design. Early Greek cameos seldom occur, because the main object
of the engravers was to produce seals. The form occasionally occurs,
however, in early Etruscan work: compare certain gorgoneia
and figures of harpies, in low relief, on sard
(Brit. Mus. Cat.
244-248; King, Antique
i. p. 117). The cameo form also occurs in the satyr's head
engraved on the back of the scarab signed by Syries (see above, p. 605).
The large onyx, representing a tragelaphos,
which is mentioned in the Athenian treasure list of 398 B.C. (C.
2.652 B, 12; cf. GEMMA
) was probably a cameo.
But it was not till after the time Alexander t hat cameo-cutting became
an art of importance. There is a remarkable series of portrait cameos
which marks the rise of the art. Unfortunately, there is much doubt as
to the personages represented, although archaeologists are for the most
part agreed that they are members of the lines of the Seleucidae and
Lagidae, between 300 and 150 B.C. The cameos in question usually
represent the busts of a male and female figure, presumably a sovereign
and his consort. The sovereign is usually in full armour. Among the best
examples are--(1) The Gonzaga cameo, now at St. Petersburg: subject,
Ptolemy Philadelphos and Arsinoe (Visconti); or Ptolemy I. and Eurydike
(Müller, Denkm. der alten Kunst,
i. No. 226
). (2) The Vienna cameo: subject,
Ptolemy Philadelphos and Arsinoe, daughter of Lysimachos
(Müller, Denkm. der alten Kunst,
i. No. 227
). See also the Berlin cameo
(Müller, i. No. 228), and the cameo in the De Luynes Collection
in the French Bibliothèque Nationale (Gaz.
1885, pl. 42, p. 396). These regal cameos are in some
instances of a considerable size, and they are worked in fine style,
with great wealth of detail. It has been suggested by C. Lenormant
(Trésor de Numismatique,
pl. viii.) that
they are the productions of a school of engravers at Alexandria. Such a
school seems very possible, though evidence is wanting. We have seen
above that Athenion was an artist in cameo who may well have worked at
Pergamon in the reign of Eumenes II. (197-159). At about this time,
also, the sardonyx was introduced at Rome by Scipio Africanus (Plin. Nat. 37.85
At the beginning of the Roman Empire the great cameos appeared which are
a development of the regal cameos already described. The imperial cameos
are distinguished by their great size, and by the admirable skill with
which the artist employs the differently coloured strata of his
material, and arranges his composition so as best to fill the space at
We may mention some of the finest extant examples. That which was
formerly reputed the largest of the series, the Carpegna cameo, formerly
in the Vatican and now in the Louvre, has been shown to be made of glass
Müller-Wieseler, Denkmäler der alten
ii. No. 116, and text). The in next largest cameo is that
of the Sainte-Chapelle, now in the French Bibliothèque
Nationale. This magnificent gem is a sardonyx of three layers, and
measures 12 in. by 10 1/2 in. It was given by Baldwin II. to Louis IX.,
and passed into the treasures of the Sainte-Chapelle, from which it was
transferred to its present resting-place in 1791. The subject,
Cameo of the Sainte-Chapelle.
once interpreted as Joseph in Egypt, is probably Livia and
Tiberius enthroned, receiving Germanicus on his return from his campaign
in Germany in A.D. 17. Above is a group of [p. 2.608]
deified members of the Julian house, and below a group of barbaric
captives. Antonia is seen to the right of Germanicus, Agrippina and
Caligula to the left: the group in the heavens contains, according to
Bernoulli, the figures of the older Drusus (with the shield), Augustus
(with the sceptre), Aeneas (with the sphere), and Germanicus, led by a
genius and mounted on Pegasus. (Bernoulli, Röm.
ii. pl. xxx. p. 275; Müller, Denk. der
i. No. 378; Chabouillet,
No. 188; Baumeister,
Next in importance to the French cameo is the Gemma
of Vienna. This is an onyx of two layers, measuring 8
5/8 by 7 1/2 inches. This gem was, in the fifteenth century, at the
abbey of St. Gernin, at Toulouse, where it had been placed, according to
tradition, by Charlemagne. Since 1619 it has been at Vienna. The subject
is the Pannonian triumph of Tiberius, 12 A.D. Augustus and Roma are
enthroned; they observe Tiberius stepping from his chariot, which is
driven by Victory. Germanicus stands beside Roma. Allegorical figures
complete the composition on the right; below, Roman soldiers are engaged
erecting a trophy and bringing barbarian prisoners. (Bernoulli,
ii. pl. xxix. p. 262;
Müller, Denkm. der alten Kunst,
i. No. 377;
Chabouillet, Gaz. Arch.
1886, pl. 31; Baumeister,
The cameo in the British Museum, with a head of Augustus (Cat. of
1560 and frontisp.), is somewhat of the same order,
though a much smaller work than the foregoing. This gem was at first
identified as Constantine the younger, and has a considerable
resemblance to the bust of that emperor as treated on the coins; but the
work seems that of the early Empire, and the features are those of
Akin to the great cameos are the vessels carved in precious stones of
surprising magnitude, with designs in relief (Cic. in Verr. 4.27, 62
: “Vas vinarium,
ex una gemma pergrandi, trulla excavata” ). First among these
is the cup of Oriental sardonyx, known as the cup of St. Denys, or cup
of the Ptolemies, and now preserved in the French
Bibliothèque Nationale. It is a cup 4 3/4 inches high, 51
inches in diameter, elaborately carved with Dionysiac emblems and
attributes in low relief (Chabouillet, Catalogue
fig. 478). Another famous
cup is the Tazza Farnese, now in the Museum at Naples. This is a large
shallow cup of onyx. In the interior is an allegorical design relating
to Egypt; on the exterior is a Gorgoneion (Millingen, Anc.
ii. pl. xvii.; Mus. Borb.
xii. pl. 47). On a vase of onyx at Berlin, see Thiersch, Abh.
1. Cl. d. k. Bayer. Akad.
2.1, p. 63.
The costliness of the material, and the difficulty of obtaining the
effects of layers on different colour on any other than a plane surface,
led to the production of the toreumata
of which the Portland Vase, exhibited in the British
Museum, is the most noted specimen. This is a specimen of true cameo
engraving, only distinguished by the fact that the material to be carved
is glass. This vase was found in the sixteenth century near Rome. The
material consists of a ground of dark blue glass, and an upper layer of
opaque white glass, in which the design was engraved, as in a sardonyx.
It is supposed that the subjects of the scenes are taken from the myth
of Peleus and Thetis (Millingen, Anc. Unedited Monuments,
p. 27, pl. A; Brit. Mus. Cat.
2312; cf. VITRUM
). The great Carpegna
cameo mentioned above belongs to this class of objects. It closely
resembles a sardonyx cameo of five layers, and represents a triumphal
procession of Dionysos and Demeter, in a car drawn by Centaurs. It
measures 16 by 12 inches. On such glass imitations of sardonyx, see
King, Precious Stones,
Intaglios of the Roman Empire.
For the first two centuries of the Empire, intaglio-engraving maintained
a high degree of excellence, especially in its technical qualities and
in its power of rendering portraits. After that period the falling away
becomes conspicuous. The chief indication of decline is a continually
increasing use of the wheel for executing the whole of the design--a
method of working which necessarily implies carelessness and want of
finish. Pietramari, an authority quoted by King (Antique
i. p. 28), thought he had observed indications of
wheel-cut work for the first time about the period of Domitian. It is
very obtrusive in a gem which can be dated with tolerable accuracy as
about 250 A.D. (Brit. Mus. Cat.
1106). Another symptom of
the decay of gem-engraving is the introduction of gold coins set in
jewellery, in the place of gems, a practice dating from about the time
of Caracalla. The only gem-engraver of the imperial period whose name is
recorded in literature is Dioscorides, the author of a portrait of
Augustus, which succeeding princes used as a seal (Plin. Nat. 37.8
; Suet. Aug. 50
). A considerable number of gems, purporting to
be signed by Dioscorides, have been preserved. We also learn from the
gem inscriptions, that Dioscorides had sons or pupils named Eutyches and
Herophilos. A large number of other gem-engravers are also known from
their signatures. The subject is discussed below.
There are numerous gems extant which purport to be inscribed with the
names of the artists. The antiquity of nearly all these inscriptions has
been called in question, and it is certain that in a great number of
cases either a modern inscription has been added to an ancient work, or
else both engraving and inscription are equally recent. The greatest
difficulty that attends the study is that of distinguishing the
different classes of inscribed gems. And since we have to deal with the
frauds of four centuries, there is no branch of archaeological study
where it is more important to know something both of the history of
taste since the revival of learning, and of the personal characters of
the persons who have been collectors.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, gemengraving became ruder and finally
died out. Like many other arts, it only lived on at Byzantium to be
communicated again to the West at the revival. Meanwhile the ancient [p. 2.609]
gems were regarded either with reverence or
superstition; the best were preserved in reliquaries, and the less
important were used as seals. (See S. Thompson's Photographs from
the Collections in the Brit. Mus.
No. 1024.) With the
revival of learning the art was again practised, and ancient gems became
objects of interest from the antiquarian and artistic points of view.
The first beginnings of the revival date from early in the fourteenth
century (King, Handb. of Engr. Gems,
p. 121). Cyriac of
Ancona gave attention to gems as well as to other branches of antiquity.
In 1445 he describes a gem with a half-length figure of Athena, and
quotes, not quite accurately, the inscription ΕΥΤΥΧΗΞ
| ΑΙΓΕΑΙΟΞ ΕΠΟΙ
(Furtwaengler, Jahrb. des Inst.
304, pl. 10, fig. 3).
Paul II. (1471) and Lorenzo de' Medici were enthusiastic collectors and
patrons. But the gemengraving of the Cinque Cento period is more easily
distinguished from the antique than is that of later times. The artists
adhered less minutely to classical models, and as a rule their
compositions are more full of detail and more fanciful. There is also a
different range of subjects, stories from Roman history being frequently
chosen for illustration.
In the sixteenth century antiquarian studies began to influence the
subject. In 1570 Fulvius Ursinus published at Rome the first edition of
Imagines Illustrium ex Bibliotheca Fulvi Ursini.
work contains a collection of portraits, supposed to be authenticated by
inscriptions. In the first edition it contains (pll. 21, 23, 53) gems
inscribed with the names of Homer, Hesiod, Plato, and also (pl. 49) a
head now called Maecenas, and inscribed ΞΟΛΩΝΟΞ.
The second edition, published at Antwerp
in 1598, omits the gems inscribed with the names of Homer, Hesiod, and
Plato, and contains the above-mentioned head of Maecenas, and also No.
64 ( “Antinous” ), inscribed ΕΛΛΗΝ;
No. 75 (female head), inscribed ΥΛΛΟΥ
(Jahrb. d. Inst.
1888, pl. 10, fig. 1); No. 87 (cameo with head of Germanicus), inscribed
) (Brit. Mus. Cat. of Gems,
No. 141 (head of Themistocles, inscribed ΘΕΜΙΞΤ
). In every case the names are explained as
those of the persons represented; e. g. No. 75 is Hylas. The first
edition of this work, with a commentary, appeared at Antwerp in 1606:
Faber, In Imag. Illustr. ex F. Ursini Bibl. Commentarius.
Here there are the same plates of inscribed gems that occur in the
previous edition; also a mention of a portrait by Mycon (pref. p. 4; cf.
p. 58); an allusion to
Epitynchanos and Zosimos as artists (p. 52), and a discussion of the
authorship of certain unsigned gems (Nos. 39, 79, 87). There is also (p.
52) a mention of an Augustus with a radiate crown, signed by
Dioscorides, of which nothing is known. On p. 66, the Heracles, signed
, is referred to
(Brit. Mus. Cat.
pl. H, No. 1281), and on p. 67 a
Cupid and butterfly of Aulos.
During the close of the sixteenth century, and through the seventeenth
century, numerous signed gems were becoming known, besides those already
mentioned. A. list of the most important here follows, stating summarily
the date, the subject, the artist, the best publication, and the manner
in which the gem first became known. Jahrb.
1888 or 1889
refers to Furtwaengler's articles in the Jahrbuch des Arch.
1888 and 1889.
- 1585. Artemis of Apollonios (Jahrb. 1888, pl.
10, fig. 8), and Hermes of Dioscorides (Jahrb.
1888, pl. 8, fig. 22). Seen by Montjosieu (Gallus Romae Hospes, in Gronov. Thes.
ix. p. 790). The Hermes afterwards formed part of the
collection belonging to the Duke of Marlborough.
- About 1600. Rape of Palladion, by Solon (Jahrb.
1888, pl. 8, fig. 29). Seen by Chaduc.
- 1605. Maecenas of Dioscorides. Seen by Peiresc (Gassendi,
Vita Peirescii, p. 90). This was probably not
identical with the stone now at Paris.
- 1606. Bearded head with name of Aetion (Jahrb.
1888, pl. 11, fig. 12). In possession of Peiresc (Gassendi, op. cit. lib. ii. p. 95). Probably
- 1625. Julia Titi of Euodos (Jahrb. 1888, pl. 11, fig.
4). Enumerated among the treasures of the Abbey of St.
Denys, where it was attached to a reliquary said to have
been given by Charles the Bald. (Doublet, Hist. de
l'Abbaye, p. 335.)
- 1627. Medusa of Sosos (?). (Jahrb. 1888, pl. 8,
fig. 18.) Published by Stefanoni. Now in the British Museum
- Before 1646. Rape of Palladion, by Felix
(Jahrb. 1888, pl. 10, fig. 7). A part of the
- 1657. Apollo of “Allion” (Stosch, Gemmae, pl. viii.). Published by
Agostini (ed. of 1657, i. pl. 32, p. 6). Correct reading,
- 1669. Athena of Aspasius (Jahrb. 1888, pl. 10,
fig. 10). Published by Canini, Iconografia, pl.
- 1669. Athena, with name of Apollodotus (Stosch, Gemmae, pl. x.). Published by Canini,
op. cit. pl. xciii. This is probably
an owner's name. It was first explained as an artist's signature
by Baudelot de Dairval (De I´Utilité
des Voyages, 1686, i. p. 311).
- About 1680. Achilles of Pamphilus (Jahrb. 1888,
pl. 10, fig. 4). Presented to Louis XIV. (Mariette,
Traité, ii. p. viii.).
- 1686. Eros on lion, of Protarchus (Jahrb. 1888,
pl. 8, fig. 20); and Muse of Onesas (Jahrb. 1888,
pl. 8, fig. 16). Published by Agostini (ed. of 1686, ii. pl. 55,
- Before 1694. Augustus, by Herophilus, son (or pupil) of
Dioscorides (Jahrb. 1888, pl. 11, fig. 2). In the
monastery of Echternach. Described in the Luxemburgum
Romanum of Wiltheim, who died in 1694. (See Brunn,
Gr. Künstler, ii. p. 506.)
- Before 1701. Heracles and Cerberus of Dioscorides
(Jahrb. 1888, pl. 3, fig. 1). Published by
Beger, Thes. Brand. iii. p. 192.
- 1709. Portrait head of Agathopus (Jahrb. 1888,
pl. 8, fig. 15). Published by Maffei, Gemme
Antiche, i. pl. 6.
- 1709. Strozzi Medusa of Solon (Brit. Mus. Cat.
pl. H, 1256). Published by Maffei, op.
cit. iv. pl. 28. Inscription probably modern.
- 1709. Adonis of Coenus (Jahrb. 1888, pl. 10,
fig. 20). Published by Maffei, op. cit.
iv. pl. 20.
In 1712 Orleans (afterwards Regent) suggested that the Solon of the
Strozzi gem was its author, and that it was he who had engraved the gem
of Fulvius Ursinus previously known as Solon [p. 2.610]
and afterwards as Maecenas. This theory, published by Baudelot de
Dairval in 1717 (Lettre sur le prétendu
), attracted much attention in France to the subject of
artists' signatures. But in Italy the Florentine Andreini had already
been engaged for several years collecting gems with artists' signatures.
By the testimony of Gori (Columb. Liviae,
1727, p. 154)
it was Andreini who first brought signed gems into high esteem.
In 1724 Philip von Stosch published his Gemmae antiquae caelatae,
Scalptorum nominibus insignitae,
giving all the gems which
he considered genuine, inscribed with proper names; all of which he
claimed as artists' signatures. From this time onwards there was a great
demand for gems with artists' signatures; and it is certain that after
this period forgeries became frequent.
Bracci (Memorie degli Antichi Incisori,
1784) and others
made lists of artists, whose number was continually increasing. At
length in 1830 the climax was reached when Prince Poniatowski had formed
a collection of signed gems which had been manufactured to meet his
order; and so brought the subject for a time into contempt.
The first critical examination of the accumulated material was that of H.
K. E. Köhler, whose essay was edited by Stephani, in
Köhler's Gesammelte Schriften,
vol. iii. (1851).
Köhler's inquiry was carried on in such a sceptical spirit that
he only admitted five gems as having authentic signatures
(Köhler, iii. p. 206). The subject has since been reviewed by
Stephani, Ueber einige angebliche Steinschneider: Mém.
de l'Académie de Pétersbourg,
vie sér. Sciences polit., vol. viii. p.
185; Brunn, Gesch. der griech. Künstler
ii. p. 441; Chabouillet, Gaz. Arch.
Furtwaengler, Jahrb. d. Inst.
1888, 1889. Stephani and
Chabouillet are sceptical, while Brunn and Furtwaengler admit a large
number of signatures.
Having completed our review of the materials available, we make the
1. A certain number of signatures may be accepted without the least
hesitation. These gems are:--(a
Greek gems only recently discovered and in a style quite unknown to the
forgers; as the gems signed by Dexamenos and Syries. (b
) Gems whose history can be traced back beyond the
revival of art; as the gem of Eutyches and probably that of Euodos. (c
) Cameos of certain authenticity where the
inscription stands out in relief, as in the Gigantomachia of Athenion.
2. A considerable number may be rejected without hesitation. (a
) Where the inscription is illiterate or
impossible, or where ΕΠΟΙΕΙ
shortened to ΕΠ.
) Where the gem is an exact replica of another already
) Where the material is one to which
the ancients had no access, e.g. Brit. Mus. Cat.
) Where the work appears modern, and the
motive of the forger is manifest, as in the Alexander of Pyrgoteles:
Brit. Mus. Cat.
) (As a rule) where the source is utterly corrupt, as in the
case of the Poniatowski collections.
3. A name on a gem may be genuine, but may be supposed not to represent
the artist's signature--(a
) If it obviously
relates to the subject, as Hyacinthus on a gem with a discobolos:
Brit. Mus. Cat.
pl. G, 742. (b
) If it obviously relates to the person represented, as
Aristippus: Brit. Mus. Cat.
pl. I, 1518. (c
) If it is found on a late and rudely-cut work,
as Thamyras: Brit. Mus. Cat.
) If the conspicuousness of the inscription proves it to be an
owner's name: see above, p. 605.
4. The various categories above enumerated include a large number of
gems; but many remain to be considered. They are of the highly-finished
style of the beginning of the Roman Empire, which has been very
accurately imitated by modern engravers; and it is in dealing with these
that the chief difficulties arise. It must be confessed that much
depends on the opinion of the critic, which has to be exercised on a
class of objects as to which it is exceptionally difficult to form a
judgment based on style. When Furtwaengler selects six gems as genuine
out of nearly forty purporting to be signed by Dioscorides, of which
Köhler and King accept none, it is obvious that certainty is
5. In this state of uncertainty it would be a great aid if we could feel
sure that forged names were very rare before the time of Stosch, and
that a gem signature known before 1724 had a strong primâ facie
claim to be considered genuine. It is
from this point of view that the list of gems given above is of high
importance. Unfortunately, however, it seems to have been a practice to
interpolate names of illustrious persons on gems supposed to be
portraits. Thus Homer, Hesiod, and Themistocles occur in the first ed.
of the Imagines
of Ursinus. Moreover, a
motive for forging artists' names was not wanting from an early time.
Already in 1606, it appears from Faber's commentary, quoted above, that
the question of authorship excited interest, and the discussion had
begun whether unsigned gems could be attributed to the artists whose
names were current. When gems are regarded from this point of view, the
temptation to forge a signature begins.
In 1686 Baudelot de Dairval (De l'Utilité des
i. p. 399) gives a warning against forged gems, though
without specifying the manufacture of inscriptions in particular. The
prevalence of fraud in the first half of the eighteenth century is
attested by statements of Stosch in 1724 (Gemmae,
p. xxi., 29), of Gori in 1727 (Columb.
p. 155), of Vettori in 1739 (Dissertatio
p. 97), and of Bracci
i. p. 147). In 1754 Natter naïvely
confessed (Traité de la Méthode ant. de
&c. p. xxix.) that he occasionally added
artists' names when requested.
6. It is therefore necessary, even with gems published at an early
period, to scrutinise closely the forms of the inscriptions. This
subject has been most recently investigated by Furtwaengler, in the
papers quoted above. The main results of his investigations are the
following. The present writer accepts them on the whole, though
occasionally differing in opinion as to individual gems.
Genuine inscriptions (a
) before Alexander.
The strokes are usually of an even width; the nom. form is more frequent
than the genitive; the earliest inscriptions follow the margin of the
stone, while they are in a straight line after about 400 B.C. (b
) Of the Hellenistic period. The inscriptions
are rough and careless; in [p. 2.611]
cameos the letters
are in relief; occasionally there are “cups” at the ends of
the strokes such as become universal in the next period. (c
) Of the close of the Republic and beginning of
the Empire. The inscriptions are minute and elegant; cameos are
inscribed in intaglio; the letters are formed with small cup-like
hemispherical depressions at the ends of the strokes, the cups being
produced with a drill, and the strokes of the letters with the diamond
This method of work was not adopted by modern engravers, according to
Furtwaengler, before the time of Sirleti (died 1737). On the operations
of Sirleti, cf. Bracci, Memorie,
i. p. 147. From this the
important rule is deduced, that if the inscription has the
“cups,” and if it was known before 1730, it is genuine.
Unfortunately this rule is not quite without exception, the gem with the
name Hellen, in the Imagines
being rejected by Furtwaengler, though the cups are present
1889, p. 76).
7. From the year 1730 onwards those gems which do not fall within the
categories given above can only be judged from their style. Here there
is a wide field of difference of opinion among critics, and the subject
is in a bewildering state of uncertainty. It is plain, however, that the
only way of making progress is systematically to collect certainly
authentic and certainly false specimens, and so by degrees to establish
standards on which a methodical judgment can be based.
--A full critical account of engraved gems has
not been written. In addition to the works dealing with particular parts
of the subject, quoted in the foregoing pages, the following may be
mentioned:--Mariette, Traité des Pierres
1750; C. W. King, Handbook of
1866, and Antique Gems and
1872; A. S. Murray, art. Gems
9th ed., vol. x., and Introduction to
Cat. of Gems in the Brit. Mus.
Catalogues have been
published of some of the chief public collections: namely, of the Berlin
Collection by Winckelmann, Descr. des Pierres gravées
du feu Baron de Stosch
(1760), and Toelken (1835); of the
British Museum Collection, by A. S. Murray and A. H. Smith (1888); of
the Collection in the Bibliotheque Nationale, at Paris, by Chabouillet
(1858); of the cameos at Vienna, by Eckhel (1788) and V. Arneth (1849).
A great number of gems in various collections are described by R. E.
Raspe, in A descriptive Catalogue of Gems cast in coloured pastes
by James Tassie,