previous next


SCALPTURA (γλυπτικὴ σφραγίδων, Poll. 7.209), the art of engraving gems or hard stones (for the uses of the words γλύφειν, χαράσσειν, κολάπτειν, scalpere, sculpere, &c., see Blümner, Technol. 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 γλύφουσι (cf. Hdt. 7.69). But nearly all engraved gems were too hard for instruments of metal; cf. Pliny, of the topaz: “sola nobilium limam sentit” (H. N. 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, τὰς ψήφους οἱ δακτυλιογλύφοι σμήχουσι. Cf. Hesych. sub voce and Blümner, Technologie, iii. p. 287).

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 Museum, 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, “tanta 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]sculptures 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) and 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. 37.177). For a full account of the gem engravers' methods, with illustrations, see Mariette, Traité des Pierres gravées, vol. i. p. 195; Natter, Méthode de graver en Pierres fines; Blümner, Technologie, 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, figs. 539-541; Ἐφ. ἀρχαιολογική, 1888, pl. 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. Nos. 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

Fig. 1.

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.

Fig. 2.

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,

Fig. 3.

and occasionally reproduce the characteristic motives of Mycenaean sculpture (comp. the gems, Brit. Mus. Cat. pl. 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. Mus. Cat. 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 Griechenland, p. 39; Furtwaengler and Loeschcke, Mykenische Vasen; Duemmler, in Mittheil. des Inst. Athen. 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 origin.

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. 191). No 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. No. 407) engraved by a Greek artist, but immediately under Persian influence.

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, with a 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. Rep. 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 elements.

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. Cat. 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 (Antike Denkmäler, 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 Tarchnas (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 (Polynices), Tute (Tydeus), Amphtiare (Amphiaraos), Atresthe (Adrastos), and Parthanapaes (Parthenopaios). (Winckelmann, Hist. de l'Art, book iii. chap. 1; Toelken, Preuss. Gemmensammlung, 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 globolo tondo 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, Od. 8.447.

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). It 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. 50.19).

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. 8.1; 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 χρυσόδετος (Her. 3.41; cf. 1.195), distinctly implies an engraved seal, mounted in gold, and was so understood by Pausanias (8.14), Tzetzes (Chil. 7.210), and Strabo (xiv. p.638, δακτύλιον λίθου καὶ γλύμματος πολυτελοῦς). Clement of Alexandria (Paedag. 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” (H. N. 7.85, 36.43; cf. Aelian, Ael. VH 1.17; Plut. adv. Stoicos, 44). Choeroboscos, in Bekker's Anecd. 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 τύπου, 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 πάγου σεσημασμένον (Michaelis, Parthenon, p. 298). Cf. C. I. G. Addenda, 2152b, from Carystus, τὸν τὰμίαν ἀποσ[τεῖλαι ἀντί]γραφον τοῦδε τοῦ ψηφίσματος σημανθὲν τῇ δημοσίᾳ σφραγεῖδι. So also C. I. G. 2265, 2332, 2347c, 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 Cat. 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” [p. 2.605](Pliny, Plin. Nat. 37.8). 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. N. 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. 50).

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 sovereign.

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 (Arch. Zeit. 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 Inst. 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 (or Συρίας) ἐποίησε. 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 inscribed Σήμονος. 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. 1888, p. 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. Mus. Cat. 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 (Compte rendu, 1861, pl. 6, 10; Jahrbuch des


Inst. 1888, pl. 8, fig. 9). (2) Agate scaraboid from South Russia, now in the Hermitage. Heron standing on one leg, and grasshopper. Inscribed, ΔΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ (Compte rendu, 1865, 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 name ΜΙΚΗΣ (Jahrb. des Inst. 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 (Cesnola, Cyprus, 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 artist.

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, pl. F, 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, [Ἀθηνίων] (Jahrb. d. Inst. 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. des Inst. 1889, p. 85. The subject may be, as Furtwaengler suggests, Eumenes II. of Pergamon driven in a triumphal chariot by Athena.

Portraits.--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), and 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; Cic. in Cat. 3.5, 10), or of a teacher (Cic. de Fin. 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.--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 Gems, 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. I. A. 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 a). (2) The Vienna cameo: subject, Ptolemy Philadelphos and Arsinoe, daughter of Lysimachos (Müller, Denkm. der alten Kunst, i. No. 227 a). See also the Berlin cameo (Müller, i. No. 228), and the cameo in the De Luynes Collection in the French Bibliothèque Nationale (Gaz. Arch. 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 his disposal.

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 (Buonarroti, Medaglioni, p. 427; Müller-Wieseler, Denkmäler der alten Kunst, 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. Ikonogr. ii. pl. xxx. p. 275; Müller, Denk. der alten Kunst, i. No. 378; Chabouillet, Catalogue, No. 188; Baumeister, Denkmäler, fig. 1794.)

Next in importance to the French cameo is the Gemma Augustea 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, Röm. Ikonogr. ii. pl. xxix. p. 262; Müller, Denkm. der alten Kunst, i. No. 377; Chabouillet, Gaz. Arch. 1886, pl. 31; Baumeister, Denkmäler, fig. 1793.)

The cameo in the British Museum, with a head of Augustus (Cat. of Gems, 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 Augustus.

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 No. 279; Baumeister, Denkmäler, 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. Unedited Monuments, ii. pl. xvii.; Mus. Borb. xii. pl. 47). On a vase of onyx at Berlin, see Thiersch, Abh. d. 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 vitri, 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, p. 308.

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 Gems, 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.

Inscribed Gems.

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 | ΔΙΟΕΚΟΝΡΙΔΟϜ | ΑΙΓΕΑΙΟΞ ΕΠΟΙ | ΕΙ (Furtwaengler, Jahrb. des Inst. 1888, p. 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. This 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 ΕΠΙΤΥΓΧΑΙΝΟΞ ΕΠΟΙΕΙ) (Brit. Mus. Cat. of Gems, 1859); 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. Stosch, Gemmae, 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 ΓΝΑΙΟΞ,, 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. Institutes, 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 modern.
  • 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 (Carlisle Collection).
  • Before 1646. Rape of Palladion, by Felix (Jahrb. 1888, pl. 10, fig. 7). A part of the Arundel Collection.
  • 1657. Apollo of “Allion” (Stosch, Gemmae, pl. viii.). Published by Agostini (ed. of 1657, i. pl. 32, p. 6). Correct reading, ΔΑΛΙΟΝ. Meaning doubtful.
  • 1669. Athena of Aspasius (Jahrb. 1888, pl. 10, fig. 10). Published by Canini, Iconografia, pl. xcii.
  • 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, 7).
  • 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 Solon), 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 (1859), ii. p. 441; Chabouillet, Gaz. Arch. 1885-6; and 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 following observations.

1. A certain number of signatures may be accepted without the least hesitation. These gems are:--(a) Early 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 is shortened to ΕΠ. (b) Where the gem is an exact replica of another already famous. (c) Where the material is one to which the ancients had no access, e.g. Brit. Mus. Cat. 985. (d) Where the work appears modern, and the motive of the forger is manifest, as in the Alexander of Pyrgoteles: Brit. Mus. Cat. 2307. (e) (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. 660. (d) 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 unattainable.

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 Voyages, 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. Liv. p. 155), of Vettori in 1739 (Dissertatio Glyptographica, p. 97), and of Bracci (Memorie, i. p. 147). In 1754 Natter naïvely confessed (Traité de la Méthode ant. de graver, &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 point.

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 of Ursinus, being rejected by Furtwaengler, though the cups are present (Jahrb. 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.

Literature.--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 gravées, 1750; C. W. King, Handbook of Engraved Gems, 1866, and Antique Gems and Rings, 1872; A. S. Murray, art. Gems in Encycl. Brit. 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, 1791.


hide References (16 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (16):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.41
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.69
    • Homer, Odyssey, 8.447
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.14
    • Homer, Iliad, 6.169
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 8.1
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.4.62
    • Cicero, Against Catiline, 3.5
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 50
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.12
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.10
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.60
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.8
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 1.17
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 3.5
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: