1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gem
GEM (Lat. gemma, a bud,—from the root gen, meaning “to produce,”—or precious stone; in the latter sense the Greek term is ψῆφος), a word applied in a wide sense to certain minerals which, by reason of their brilliancy, hardness and rarity, are valued for personal decoration; it is extended to include pearl. In a restricted sense the term is applied only to precious stones after they have been cut and polished as jewels, whilst in their raw state the minerals are conveniently called “gem-stones.” Sometimes, again, the term “gem” is used in a yet narrower sense, being restricted to engraved stones, like seals and cameos.
The subject is treated here in two sections: (1) Mineralogy and general properties; (2) Gems in Art, i.e. engraved gems, such as seals and cameos. The artificial products which simulate natural gem-stones in properties and chemical composition are treated in the separate article Gem, Artificial.
1. Mineralogy and General Properties
The gem-stones form a small conventional group of minerals, including principally the diamond, ruby, sapphire, emerald and opal. Other stones of less value—such as topaz, spinel, chrysoberyl, chrysolite, zircon and tourmaline—are sometimes called “fancy stones.” Many minerals still less prized, yet often used as ornamental stones,—like moonstone, rock-crystal and agate,—occasionally pass under the name of “semi-precious stones,” but this is rather a vague term and may include the stones of the preceding group. The classification of gem-stones is, indeed, to some extent a matter of fashion.
Descriptions of the several gem-stones will be found under their respective headings, and the present article gives only a brief review of the general characters of the group.
A high degree of hardness is an essential property of a gem-stone, for however beautiful and brilliant a mineral may be it is useless to the jeweller if it lack sufficient hardness to withstand the abrasion to which articles of personal Hardness. decoration are necessarily subjected. Even if not definitely scratched, the polished stone becomes dull by wear. Imitations in paste may be extremely brilliant, but being comparatively soft they soon lose lustre when rubbed. In the article Mineralogy it is explained that the varying degrees of hardness are registered on a definite scale. The exceptional hardness of the diamond gives it a supreme position in this scale, and to it the arbitrary value of 10 has been assigned. The corundum gem-stones (ruby and sapphire), though greatly inferior in hardness to the diamond, come next, with the value of 9; and it is notable that the sapphire is usually rather harder than ruby. Then follows the topaz, which, with spinel and chrysoberyl, has a hardness of 8; whilst quartz falls a degree lower. Most gem-stones are harder than quartz, though precious opal, turquoise, moonstone and sphene are inferior to it in hardness. Those stones which are softer than quartz have been called by jewellers demi-dures. To test the hardness of a cut stone, one of its sharp edges may be drawn, with firm pressure, across the smooth surface of a piece of quartz; if it leave a scratch its hardness must be above 7. The stone is then applied in like manner to a fragment of topaz, preferably a cleavage-piece, and if it fail to leave a distinct scratch its hardness is between 7 and 8, whereas if the topaz be scratched it is above 8. An expert may obtain a fair idea of hardness by gently passing the stone over a fine steel file, and observing the feel of the stone and the grating sound which it emits. If a stone be scratched by a steel knife its hardness is below 6. The degree of hardness of a precious stone is soon ascertained by the lapidary when cutting it.
Gem-stones differ markedly among themselves in density or specific weight; and although this is a character which does not directly affect their value for ornamental purposes, it furnishes by its constancy an important means of distinguishing one stone Specific gravity. from another. Moreover, it is a character very easily determined and can be applied to cut stones without injury. The relative weightiness of a stone is called its specific gravity, and is often abbreviated as S.G. The number given in the description of a mineral as S.G. shows how many times the stone is heavier than an equal bulk of the standard with which it is compared, the standard being distilled water at 4° C. If, for example, the S.G. of diamond is said to be 3.5 it means that a diamond weighs 31 times as much as a mass of water of the same bulk. The various methods of determining specific gravity are described under Density. The readiest method of testing precious stones, especially when cut, is to use dense liquids. Suppose it be required to determine whether a yellow stone be true topaz or false topaz (quartz), it is merely necessary to drop the stone into a liquid made up to the specific gravity of about 3; and since topaz has S.G. of 3.5 it sinks in this medium, but as quartz has S.G. of only 2.65 it floats. The densest gem-stone is zircon, which may have S.G. as high as 4.7, whilst the lowest is opal with S.G. 2.2. Amber, it is true, is lighter still, being scarcely denser than water, but this substance can hardly be called a gem.
Although the great majority of precious stones occur crystallized, the characteristic form is destroyed in cutting. The crystal-forms of the several stones are noticed under their respective headings, and the subject is discussed Crystalline form and cleavage. fully under Crystallography. A few substances used as ornamental stones—like opal, turquoise, obsidian and amber—are amorphous or without crystalline form; whilst others, like the various stones of the chalcedony-group, display no obvious crystal-characters, but are seen under the microscope to possess a crystalline structure. Gem-stones are frequently found in gravels or other detrital deposits, where they occur as rolled crystals or fragments of crystals, and in many cases have been reduced to the form of pebbles. By the disintegration of the rock which formed the original matrix, its constituent minerals were set free, and whilst many of them were worn away by long-continued attrition, the gem-stones survived by virtue of their superior hardness.
Many crystallized gem-stones exhibit cleavage, or a tendency to split in definite directions. The lapidary recognizes a “grain” in the stone. When the cleavage is perfect, as in topaz, it may render the working of the stone difficult, and produce incipient cracks in the cut gem. Flaws due to the cleavage planes are called “feathers.” The octahedral cleavage of the diamond is taken advantage of in dressing the stone before cutting it. The cutting of gem-stones is explained under Lapidary.
The beauty and consequent value of gems depend mainly on their colour. Some stones, it is true, are valued for entire absence of colour, as diamonds of pure “water.” Certain kinds of sapphire and topaz, too, are “water Colour. clear,” as also is pure rock-crystal; but in most stones colour is a prime element of attraction. The colour, however, is not generally an essential property of the mineral, but is due to the presence of foreign pigmentary matter, often in very small proportion and in some cases eluding determination. Thus, corundum when pure is colourless, but the presence of traces of certain mineral substances imparts to it not only the red of ruby and the blue of sapphire, but almost every other colour. The tinctorial matter may be distributed either uniformly throughout the stone or in regular zones, or in quite irregular patches. A tourmaline, for instance, may be red at one end of a prismatic crystal and green at the other extremity, or the colour may be so disposed that in transverse section the centre will be red and the outer zone green. A beryl may be yellow and green in the same crystal. Sapphire, again, is often parti-coloured, one portion of the stone being blue and other portions white or yellow; and the skilful lapidary, in cutting the stone, will take advantage of the blue portion. The character of the pigment is in many cases not definitely known. It by no means follows that the material capable of imparting a certain tint to glass is identical with that which naturally colours a stone of the same tint; thus a glass of sapphire-blue may be obtained by the use of cobalt, yet cobalt has not been detected in the sapphire. Probably the most common mineral pigments are compounds of iron, manganese, copper and chromium. If the colour of the stone be discharged by heat, an organic pigment is presumably present. Some ornamental stones change their colour, or even lose it, on exposure to sunlight and air: such is the case with rose-quartz, chrysoprase and certain kinds of topaz and turquoise. Exposure to heat alters the colour of some stones so readily that the change is taken advantage of commercially; thus, sherry-yellow topaz may be rendered pink, smoky and amethystine quartz may become yellow, and coloured zircons may be decolorized, so as to resemble diamonds.
The colours of some gem-stones are greatly affected by radioactivity, and Prof. F. Bordas has found this to be particularly the case with sapphire. From his experiments he believes that yellow corundum, or oriental topaz, may have been formed from blue corundum under the influence of radioactive substances present in the soil in which the sapphire was embedded. Different shades of colour may be presented by different stones of the same species; and it was formerly the custom of lapidaries to regard the darker stones as masculine and the paler as feminine, a full blue sapphire, for instance, being called a “male sapphire” and a delicate blue stone a “female sapphire.” It is notable that some stones appear to change colour by candle-light and by most other artificial means of illumination; some amethysts thus become inky, and certain sapphires acquire a murky tint, whilst others become amethystine. For an example of a remarkable change of this character, see Alexandrite.
As the optical properties of minerals are fully explained under Crystallography, little need be said here on this subject. The brilliancy of a cut stone depends on the amount of light reflected from its faces; and in the form Refraction. known as the “brilliant” the gem is so cut that much of the incident light, after entering the stone and suffering refraction, is totally reflected from the facets at the back. The amount of light which is thus returned to the eye of the observer will be greater as the angle of total reflection, or critical angle, is smaller, but this angle will be small if the refractive power of the stone is great, so that the brilliancy directly depends on the refractivity. The diamond has the highest refractive index of any gem-stone (2.42). Jargoon, or zircon, has also a high index (mean 1.95), and sphene, which is occasionally cut as a gem, is likewise very notable in this respect. The index of refraction generally bears a relation to the specific gravity of the stone, the heaviest gems having the highest indices, though a few minerals offer exceptions. The refractive index, which is thus a very important character in the scientific discrimination of gem-stones, may be conveniently determined, within certain limits, by means of the refractometer devised by Dr G.F. Herbert Smith. This instrument is an improved form of the total reflectometer, in which the refractive power of a given substance is determined by the method of total reflection. It may be used for indices ranging from 1.300 to 1.775, and may be applied to faceted stones without removal from their settings.
The play of prismatic colours exhibited by a cut stone, often known as its “fire,” is due to the decomposition of the white light which enters the stone, and is returned, by internal reflection, after resolution in to its coloured components. Dispersion. This decomposition depends on the dispersive power of the substance. The exceptional beauty of the fiery flashes in the diamond is due to its high dispersion, in other words, to the difference between the refractive indices for the red rays and the violet rays at the extremities of the spectrum. The peculiar lustre exhibited by the diamond is called adamantine, and is shared to some extent by certain other stones which have a high refractive index and high dispersion, such as zircon.
The use of the spectroscope may be valuable in discriminating between certain precious stones. It was shown by Sir A. H. Church that almandine garnet and zircon when simply Spectro-scopic characters. viewed through this instrument give, under proper conditions, characteristic absorption spectra, due to the light reflected from the stone having penetrated to some extent into the substance of the mineral and suffered absorption. It is sometimes useful to examine the behaviour of a stone under the action of the Röntgen rays.
A very useful means of discriminating between certain stones is found in their dichroism, or, to use a more general term, pleochroism. Neither amorphous minerals, like opal, nor minerals crystallizing in the cubic system, like Dichroism. spinel and garnet, possess this property; but coloured minerals which are doubly refracting may show different colours, when properly examined, in different directions. Occasionally this is so marked as to be detected by the naked eye, as in iolite or dichroite, but usually the stone needs to be examined with such an instrument as Haidinger’s dichroscope (see Crystallography). It must be remembered that in the direction of an optic axis the two images will be of the same colour in all positions of the instrument, and it is therefore necessary before reaching a definite conclusion to turn the stone about and examine it in various directions. The use of the dichroscope is so simple that it can be applied by any one to the examination of a cut stone, but there are other means of determining the nature of a stone by its optical properties available to the mineralogist and more suitably discussed under Crystallography.
In chemical composition the gem-stones present great variety. Diamond is composed of only a single element; ruby, sapphire and the quartz-group are oxides; spinel and chrysoberyl may be regarded as aluminates; turquoise and Chemical composition. beryllonite are phosphates; and a great number of ornamental stones are silicates of greater or less complexity, such as emerald, topaz, chrysolite, garnet, zircon, tourmaline, kunzite, sphene and benitoite. In the examination of a cut stone chemical tests are not available, since they usually involve the partial destruction of the mineral. The artificial production of certain gems by chemical processes which yield products identical in composition and physical properties with the natural stones, is described in the article Gem, Artificial.
Doublets and triplets are composite stone, sometimes prepared for fraudulent purposes. In a doublet a slab of real gem-stone covers the face of a paste, whilst in a triplet the paste is both faced and backed by a slice of genuine stone. By the action of a suitable solvent, such as chloroform or in some cases even hot water, the cement uniting the pieces gives way and the compound character of the structure is detected.
Before the chemical composition of gem-stones was understood, their classification remained vague and unscientific. As the ancients depended almost entirely on the eye, the colour of the stone naturally became the chief factor in classification. A variety of stones agreeing roughly in colour would be grouped together under a common name, widely as they might differ in other respects. Thus the emerald, the peridot, green fluorspar, malachite, and certain kinds of quartz and jade seem to have been united under the general name of σμάραγδος whilst the ruby, red spinel and garnet were probably grouped together as carbunculus. In this way minerals radically different were associated on the ground of what is generally a superficial and accidental character, and rarely of any classificatory value. On the other hand, a grouping based only on colour led to several names being in some cases applied to the same mineral species. Thus the ruby and sapphire are essentially identical in chemical composition and in all physical characters, save colour.
Descriptions of precious stones by ancient writers generally are too vague for exact diagnosis. The principal classical authorities are Theophrastus and the elder Pliny. Stones were formerly held in esteem not only for their beauty and Supersti-tions. rarity but for the medicinal and magical powers with which they were reputed to be endowed. Up to comparatively recent years the toadstone, for example, was worn not for beauty but for sake of occult virtue; and even at the present day certain stones, like jade, are valued for a similar reason. Prof. W. Ridgeway has suggested that jewelry took its origin not, as often supposed, in an innate love of personal decoration, but rather in the belief that the objects used possessed magical virtue. Small stones peculiar in colour or shape, especially those with natural perforations, are usually valued by uncivilized peoples as amulets. The Orphic poem Λιθικά, reputed to be of very early though unknown date, is rich in allusions to the virtues of many of the gem-stones. Many of the medical and other virtues of precious stones were evidently attributed to them on the well-known doctrine of signatures. Thus, the blood-red colour of a fine jasper suggested that the stone would be useful in haemorrhage; a green jasper would bring fertility to the soil; and the purple wine-colour of amethyst pointed to its value as a preventive of intoxication. Many of the superstitions came down to modern times, and even at the present day the belief in “lucky stones” is by no means extinct.
Bibliography.—The most comprehensive work on gem-stones is Professor Max Bauer’s Edelsteinkunde (1896), translated, with additions, by L. J. Spencer under the title Precious Stones (1904). Less detailed are Professor P. Groth’s Grundriss der Edelsteinkunde (1887) and Professor C. Doelter’s Edelsteinkunde (1893). Sir A. H. Church’s Precious Stones (1905), intended as a guide to the collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is a convenient introduction: and Professor H. A. Miers’s Cantor Lectures at the Society of Arts on Precious Stones (1896) may be studied with advantage. For American stones, the valuable work of Dr G. F. Kunz, The Gems and Precious Stones of N. America, is a standard authority; and the Annual Reports of this writer and others, published by the Geological Survey of the United States in the Mineral Resources, form a repertory of valuable information on precious stones in general. The articles in The Mineral Industry (founded by R.P. Rothwell) should also be consulted. See likewise O.C. Farrington, Gems and Gem Minerals (Chicago, 1903). For optical characters reference should be made to G. F. H. Smith, The Herbert Smith Refractometer (London, 1907); L. Claremont, The Gem-Cutter’s Craft (London, 1906); W. Goodchild, Precious Stones (London, 1908). (F. W. R.*)
2. Gems in Art
In art, the word Gem is the general term for precious stones when engraved with designs, whether adapted for sealing (σφραγίς, sigillum, intaglio), or mainly for artistic effect (imagines ectypae, cameo). They exist in a very large number of undoubtedly genuine old examples, extending from the mists of Babylonian antiquity to the decline of Roman civilization, and again starting with a new, but less original impulse on the revival of art. Apart from workmanship they possess the charms of colour deep, rich, and varied, of material unequalled for its endurance, and of scarcity, which in many instances has been enhanced by the remoteness of the lands whence they came or the fortuity of their occurrence. These qualities united within the small compass of a gem were precisely such as were required in a seal as a thing of constant use, so inalienable in its possession as to become naturally a personal ornament and an attractive medium of artistic skill, no less than the centre of traditions or of religious and legendary associations. As regards the nations of classical antiquity, all seals are classed as gems, though in many cases the material is not such as would strictly come under that heading, and precious stones in the modern sense are hardly known to occur. On the other hand it must not be supposed that gems engraved in intaglio were necessarily employed as seals. At all periods many intaglios are found which could not have been so employed without great difficulty. In Greece and Rome, within historic times, gems were worn engraved with designs to show that the bearer was an adherent of a particular worship, the follower of a certain philosopher, or the attached subject of an emperor. However, speaking generally, the intaglio engraving is a means to an end, namely, a seal-impression, while an engraving in relief is complete in itself.
Methods of Engraving (see also under Lapidary).—In gem-engraving the principal modern implement is a wheel or minute copper disk, driven in the manner of a lathe, and moistened with olive oil mixed with emery or diamond dust. There is no clear proof of the use among the ancients of a wheel mounted lathewise, but we have abundant indications of drilling with a revolving tool, which might be either a tubular drill making a ring-like depression, a pointed tool making a cup-like sinking, or a small wheel with a cutting edge, making a boat-shaped depression.
We have one sepulchral monument from Philadelphia showing the tool of an intaglio engraver (δακτυλοκοιλογύφος; see Athenische Mitteilungen des Arch. Inst. xv. p. 333). Unfortunately the relief is incomplete, and the published illustration inadequate. It would seem, however, that a revolving tool was supported by a kind of mandrel, and actuated in primitive fashion by a bow. An alternative plan of working was to use a splinter of diamond set in a handle and applied like a graver. Both systems are clearly indicated by Pliny, who in one passage (H.N. xxxvii. 60) states that diamond splinters are sought out by gem engravers and set in iron, and so easily hollow out stones of any degree of hardness; while elsewhere (H.N. xxxvii. 200) he speaks of the special efficacy of the fervor terebrarum, the vehement action of drills. A third method is also indicated by Pliny (ibid.) when he speaks of the use of a blunted tool, which must have been moistened and supplied with emery of Naxos.
A four-sided pendant of the Hellenistic period published by Furtwängler (Antike Gemmen, Gesch. p. 400) shows clearly the successive stages of the operation. On side a the subject is slightly sketched in with the diamond point. On side b the deepest parts of the figure have also been roughly scooped out with the wheel. On sides c and d the wheel work is fairly complete, but the finer internal work has not been begun.
After the design had been completed the stone must have received a final polish on its surface, to obliterate any erroneous strokes of the first sketch; but this process was not carried as far as in modern work. It is a popular error to suppose that a high degree of internal polish is a proof of antiquity. If the interior of the design has a high degree of polish it may be either ancient or modern, or it may be an ancient stone repolished in modern times. If it has a matt surface uniformly produced by intention, it is probably modern. If the design is slightly dimmed and worn or scratched the stone may be antique, but is not necessarily so, since modern engravers have observed this peculiarity, and have imitated it with a success which, were there no other grounds of suspicion, might escape detection.
History.—It has been a subject of controversy whether the first infancy of the art was passed in Egypt or in Babylonia, but it seems highly probable that it was developed in Babylonia, whence at any rate the oldest examples of engraved gems at present known are obtained. It does not necessarily follow, however, that Egypt was therefore a pupil. It may well be that the art was developed independently in the two countries, although certain points of possible contact in respect of the forms employed will be described below in the section dealing with primitive Egypt.
Babylonia.—At a very remote period the cylindrical form of stone was introduced and became the approved shape, while the technical skill of the artist was still slight, and the traces of the tools employed (drill and pencil point) were still unconcealed.
The cylinder was suspended by a string and used as a seal. Impressions of cylinders are frequent on contract tablets. If one of the parties cannot use a seal he makes a nail-mark in lieu thereof, as is recorded in the document.
But from a time that was still comparatively early the engravers could work with considerable skill in the hard stone. In particular a cylinder may be quoted in the de Clercq Collection bearing the name of Sargon I. of Agade, who is placed about 3500 B.C. The cylinder is engraved with the king’s name and titles and two symmetrically disposed renderings of Izdubar, with a vase of flowing water giving drink to a bull. The whole is treated in a conventionalized style that indicates long traditions. An important early cylinder in the British Museum is inscribed with the name of a viceroy of Ur-Gur, king of Ur (about 2500 B.C.). The engraving shows Ur-Gur being led into the presence of Sin, the moon-god.
The cylinder seal was adopted by the Assyrians, and so was carried on continuously till the time of the Persian conquest of Babylon (538 B.C.). Meanwhile, as an alternative form the conoidal seal, rounded at the top and having a flat base for the intaglio, came into use beside the cylinder.
In style the Assyrians carried on the Babylonian tradition, but with no freedom of design. Subjects and treatment became rigidly conventional.
1. Babylonian (late Sumerian) Cylinder of a Viceroy of Ur-Gur (or Ur-Engur), 2500 B.C.
2. Assyrian Cylinder. Woman adoring Goddess.
3. Assyrian Cylinder. Assur worshipped by two Assyrian kings, and divine Attendants.
4. Persian Seal of Darius (500 B.C.). Lion Hunt.
5. Graeco-Persian Scarabaeoid. Boar Hunt.
6–15.—CRETAN AND MYCENAEAN INTAGLIOS.
6. Cretan Symbols.
7. Man and Bull. Crete.
8. Lions and Column. Ialysus.
9. Daemon. Crete.
10. Lioness and Deer.
11-13. Three-sided Stone. Peloponnesus.
14. Man and Bull. Crete.
15. Bull and Palm. Ialysus.
16–18.—GEMS OF THE ISLANDS.
16. Goddess on Waves. Birds.
17. Lion and Goat.
18. Heracles and Nereus.
19.—PHOENICIAN SEAL, inscribed.
20–26.—GRAECO-PHOENICIAN SCARABS FROM THARROS.
20. King, enthroned.
21. Bes with Antelope and Hound.
22. Bes with Lions.
24. Egyptian Device.
25. Bes and Goats.
26. Hawk of Horus.
27. Pluto and Persephone. (New York.)
35. Head of Young Warrior.
45. Achilles in Retirement.
55. Girl with Scroll and Lyre.
58. Asclepius of Aulos.
73. Achilles of Pamphilus, copied from the antique.
After the Persian conquest the victors adopted the cylinder form of the conquered, and continued to use it. A Persian cylinder seal of Darius (probably about 500 B.C.) in the British Museum shows the king in his chariot, transfixing a lion with his arrows, in a palm wood. Above is the winged emblem of the Persian deity Ahuramazda. The inscription gives the name and titles of Darius in the Persian, Scythic and Babylonian languages. The style is accurate and minute. The idea of the lion hunt is borrowed from the Assyrian monuments, but the engraver has been careful to make the necessary changes of costume and treatment. The cylinder was, as might be anticipated, imitated to a certain extent by peoples of the Eastern world in touch with Babylonia. It occurs in Armenia, Media and Elam. It has been found in Crete (British School Annual, viii. p. 77) and is frequent in the early Cypriote deposits. In some instances it has been found unfinished and therefore must be supposed to be of local manufacture. Sometimes a direct imitation of cuneiform characters occurs on the Cypriote cylinders. The same form was also employed by the Phoenicians (about the 8th century-7th century B.C.). By the Greeks and Etruscans it was used, but only rarely, and by way of exception.
Egypt.—We must go back to the remotest periods for the origin of intaglio engraving in Egypt. Recent discoveries of tombs of the earliest dynasties at Abydos and Nagada have thrown much light on the early stages of Egyptian art, and have revealed the remarkable fact that in Egypt (as in Babylonia) the cylinder was the earliest form used for the purpose of a seal. The cylinders that have been found are comparatively few in number; but a large number of jar-stoppings of clay are preserved on which cylinder designs have been rolled off while the clay was still soft. Such early incised cylinders as are extant are made either of hard wood or (as in an instance in the British Museum) of stone. The identity of form has been thought to indicate a connexion with Babylonia, but none can be traced in the designs of the respective cylinders.
The Egyptians of the earliest dynasties had an admirable command of hard stones, as shown by their beads and stone vases, but with the exception of the cylinders quoted they are not known to have applied their skill to the production of intaglios. At this early period the scarab (or beetle) was still unknown as a gem-form. It was only about the time of the 4th dynasty that the scarab (q.v.) was first introduced, and gradually took the place of the cylinder as the prevailing shape.
The Scarabaeus sacer (Egyptian, Kheperer), rolling its eggs in a ball of mud, became the accepted emblem of the sun-god, and so the form had an amuletic value. Scarabs of obsidian and crystal date back to the 4th dynasty. Others, coarse and uninscribed, belong to the beginning of the first Theban empire. After the 18th dynasty they are counted by thousands. While the beetle form was naturalistically treated, the flat surface underneath was well adapted to receive a hieroglyphic sign. The scarabs, however, are by no means the only product of the art. We have also figures of all kinds in the round and in intaglio—statuettes, figures of animals and of deities, and sacred emblems such as the ankh (or crux ansata) and the eye. Among interesting variations from the scarab form is the oblong intaglio of green jasper in the Louvre (Gazette arch., 1878, p. 41) with a design on both sides. It represents on the obverse Tethmosis (Thothmes) II. (1800 B.C.) slaying a lion, and identified by his cartouche. On the reverse we have the same king drawing his bow against his enemies from a war chariot. The scarabs of Egypt though uninteresting in themselves, considered as examples of engraving, have this accidental importance in the history of art, that they furnished the Phoenicians with a model which they were able to improve as regards the intaglio by a more free spirit of design, gathered partly from Egypt and partly from Assyria. The scarab thus improved exercised a lasting influence on the later history, since, as will be seen below, it was adopted and modified both by Greeks and Etruscans.
|Fig. 1.—Jewish High Priest’s Breastplate.|
Engraved Gems in the Bible.—While the Phoenicians have left actual specimens to show with what skill they could adopt the systems of gem-engraving prevailing at their time in Egypt and Assyria, the Israelites, on the other hand, have left records to prove, if not their skill, at least the estimation in which they held engraved gems. “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond” (Jerem. xvii. 1). To pledge his word Judah gave Tamar his signet, with its cord for suspension, and staff (Gen. xxxviii. 18); whence if this passage be compared with the frequent use of “seal” in a metaphorical sense in the Bible, and with the usage of the Babylonians of carrying a seal with an emblem engraved on it recorded by Herodotus, it may be concluded that among the Israelites also every man of mark at least wore a signet. Their acquaintance with the use of seals in Egypt and Assyria is seen in the statement that Pharaoh gave Joseph his signet ring as a badge of investiture (Gen. xli. 42), and that the stone which closed the den of lions was sealed by Darius with his own signet and with the signet of his lords (Daniel vi. 17). Then as to the stones which were most prized, Ezekiel (xxviii. 13), speaking of the prince of Tyre, mentions “the sardius, the topaz and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald and the carbuncle,” stones which again occur in that most memorable of records, the description of the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus xxviii. 16-21, and xxxix. 8-14). Twelve stones grouped in four rows, each with three specimens, may be arranged on a square, so as to have the rows placed either vertically or horizontally. If they are to cover the whole square, then, unless the gold mounts supplied the necessary compensation, they must be cut in an oblong form, and if the names engraved on them are to run lengthwise, as is the manner of Assyrian cylinders, then the stones, to be legible, must be grouped in four horizontal rows of three each. There is in fact no reason to suppose that the gems of the breastplate were in any other form than that of cylinders such as abounded to the knowledge of the Israelites, with this possibility, however, that they may have been cut lengthways into half-cylinders like a fragmentary one of sard in the British Museum, which has been mounted in bronze, and, as a remarkable exception, has been set with three small precious stones now missing. It could not have been a seal, because of this setting, and because the inscription is not reversed. The names of the twelve tribes, not their standards, as has been thought, may have been engraved in this fashion, just as on the two onyx stones in the preceding verses (Exodus xxviii. 9-11), where there can be no question but that actual names were incised. On these two stones the order of the names was according to primogeniture, and this, it is likely, would apply to the breastplate also. The accompanying diagram will show how the stones, supposing them to have been cylinders or half-cylinders, may have been arranged consistently with the descriptions of the Septuagint. In the arrangement of Josephus (iii. 7. 5) the jasper is made to change places with the sapphire, the amethyst with the agate, and the onyx with the beryl, while our version differs partly in the order and partly in the names of the stones; but probably in all these accounts the names had in some cases other meanings than those which they now carry. It must be remembered that we have two series of equivalents, namely, the Hebrew compared with the Septuagint, and the Greek words of the Septuagint compared with the modern names, which in many cases, though derived from the Greek, have changed their applications. From the fact that to each tribe was assigned a stone of different colour, it may be taken that in each case the colour was one which belonged prescriptively to the tribe and was symbolic, as in Assyria, where the seven planets appropriated each a special colour [see Brandis in Hermes, 1867, p. 259 seq., and de Saulcy, Revue archéologique, 1869, ii. p. 91; and compare Revelation xxi. 12, 13, where the twelve gates, which have the names of the twelve tribes written upon them, are grouped in four threes, and 19, 20, where the twelve precious stones of the walls are given]. The precious stones which occur among the cylinders of the British Museum are sard, emerald, lapis lazuli (sapphire of the ancients), agate, onyx, jasper and rock crystal.
Gem-Engraving in Greek Lands.—We must now turn to the history of gem-engraving in Greek lands. The excavations in Crete in the first years of the 20th century revealed a previously unknown culture, which lasted on the lowest computation for more than two thousand years, and was only interrupted by the national upheavals which preceded the opening of Greek history proper. (See Crete; Archaeology; and Aegean Civilization.) Throughout the whole period the products of the gem-engraver occupy an important place among the surviving remains. It must suffice, however, in this place to indicate the chief groups of stones.
The earliest engraved stones of Minoan Crete are three-sided prism seals, made of a soft steatite, native in S.E. Crete (Journ. of Hellenic Studies, xvii. p. 328). These are incised with pictorial signs evidently belonging to a rudimentary hieroglyphic system, and are dated before 3000 B.C. At a period placed by A.J. Evans between 2800 and 2200 the method was fully systematized and employed on the signets, as well as on tablets and other materials. This development of the hieroglyphic system was accompanied by an increasing power of working in hard material, and cornelian and chalcedony superseded soft steatite (Journ. of Hell. Studies, xvii. p. 334).
Towards 2000 B.C. a highly developed linear form began to supersede the pictorial signs. It is abundant on the tablets, but the gems thus inscribed are comparatively rare. The linear form in turn died out some six hundred years later.
The signs of the pictorial script incised on the gems are representations of objects, expressed with precision, but giving little scope for the higher side of the gem-engraver’s art. Simultaneously, however, with the use of the script, a high degree of skill was acquired by the engravers in rendering animal and human forms. Scenes occur of ritual observance, hunting, animal life, and strange compounded forms of demons. The excavations did not yield a large number of original gems of this class, but a great number of clay sealings from such signets were discovered. That they were synchronous with the use of the forms of script described above is proved by the fact that in the palace at Cnossus deposits were found, both in the linear and the hieroglyphic script, sealed with these signets, the seal impressions being again endorsed in the script (Brit. School Annual, xi. pp. 56, 62). For a remarkable group of sealings found at Zakro see Journ. of Hell. Studies, xxii. pll. 6-10. The finest naturalistic engravings are placed towards the close of the “Mid-Minoan” and beginning of the “Late-Minoan” periods (about 2200–1800 B.C.). During the progress of the “Late-Minoan” period the subjects tended to assume a more formal and heraldic character. The forms of stones in favour were the disk convex on each side (lenticular or lentoid stones), and during the “Mid-Minoan” period, elaborate signets in the form of modern fob-seals. Apart from the use of intaglios for sealing, the excavations have shown that the Cretan lapidaries were largely employed in the working of gems for purposes of decoration. Fragments of lapis lazuli and crystal for inlaying (the crystals having coloured designs on their lower surfaces) were found in the throne room at Cnossus; the royal gaming-board, also from the palace at Cnossus, had inlaid crystal disks and plaques. The workshop of a lapidary, with unfinished works in marble, steatite, jasper and beryl, was also found within the precincts of the palace (Brit. School Annual, vii. pp. 20, 77). Examples were also found of work in relief, substantially anticipating the art of cameo-cutting.
|Fig. 2.—Lenticular Rock-Crystal from Ialysus. (Brit. Mus.)|
|Fig. 3.—Lenticular Sard from Ialysus. (Brit. Mus.)|
The area over which the Cretan influence extended was wide. Its manifestations in Greek lands proper, first revealed by Schliemann’s excavation of the royal tombs of Mycenae, ran parallel with and outlasted the later periods of the Cretan culture to which it stood in close relation (see Aegean Civilization). Its gems and intaglio works in gold are known to us from the finds at Mycenae, and at analogous sites, such as Menidi, Vaphio and Ialysus. They have much in common with the finer class of Cretan stones already described. The engraved gems fall principally into two groups in respect of form, namely, the lenticular (or lentoid) stones already mentioned, and (more rarely) glandular stones, so called from their resemblance to a glans or sling bolt. A Cretan fresco shows a figure wearing an agate lenticular stone suspended from the left wrist. The finer specimens of the Aegean gems are engraved with the wheel and the point in hard stones, such as chalcedony, amethyst, sard, rock-crystal and haematite. A lapidary’s workshop similar to that at Cnossus has been found at Mycenae, with a store of unused gems, and an unfinished lenticular stone (Ephemeris Archaiologikè, 1897, p. 121). The characteristic of the Aegean engraver is the free expression of living forms. His subjects are figures of animals, men and demons in combat, and heraldic compositions recalling the Gate of Lions at Mycenae. It was almost inevitable that the scarab should be found in the Cretan and Aegean deposits, but in such cases we have the Egyptian scarab directly imported, and not, as at a later period, non-Egyptian adaptations of the form. The cylinder also (except in Cyprus, the borderland between east and west) only occurs as an importation, and not as a currently manufactured shape.
The “Island Gems.”—The Aegean culture was swept away probably by that dimly seen upheaval which separated Mycenaean from historical Greece, and which is commonly known as the Dorian invasion. One of the few facts which indicate a certain continuity of tradition in later Greece is this, that we again find the same characteristic forms, the glandular and lenticular stones, in the cemeteries, of Melos and elsewhere. It is only recently that archaeologists have learnt to distinguish between the later lenticular and glandular stones “of the Greek Islands,” as they are commonly called, and those of the Aegean age. Engravings of the later class are worked in soft materials only, such as steatite. They have not the power of expressing action peculiar to the Aegean artist. In general, the continuity of tradition between the gems of the Mycenaean and the historical periods is in respect of shape rather than of art. The subjects are for the most part decorative forms (the Gryphon, the winged Sphinx, the winged horse, &c.) in course of development into characters of Greek myth.
The Phoenicians and the Greeks.—About the end of the 8th and beginning of the 7th century B.C. the Phoenicians began to exercise a powerful influence as intermediaries between Egypt and Assyria and the Mediterranean. Porcelain and other imitations of Egyptian ornaments, and especially of Egyptian scarabs, are found in great numbers on such sites as Amathus in Cyprus, Camirus in Rhodes, in Etruria, and at Tharros in Sardinia. The Egyptian hieroglyphics are imitated with mistakes, the figures introduced are stiff and formal, the animals as a rule heraldic. The scarab form, which in Egypt had had its sacred significance, was now become nothing more than a convenient shape for an object of jewelry or for the reverse side of a stone. It was adopted from the Phoenicians both by Greeks and Etruscans. By the Greeks, with whom we are at present concerned, its use was occasional, and about 500 B.C. it was superseded by the scarabaeoid. Under this name two forms, somewhat similar but independent in origin, are usually grouped without sufficient discrimination. The scarabaeoid proper is a simplification of the scarab, effected by the omission of all details of the beetle. But many of the stones known as scarabaeoids, with a flat and oval base and a convex back, are in respect of their form probably of North Syrian origin (so Furtwängler). The earliest examples of archaic Greek gem-engraving (other than the later “Island gems” already described) are works of Ionian art. They show a desire, only limited by imperfect power of expression, to represent the human figure, though the particular theme may be a god or other mythical personages. By the beginning of the 5th century the engravers had reached the point of full development, and the scarabaeoids of the time embody its results. As an example of fine scarabaeoids the Woodhouse intaglio of a seated citharist (fig. 5; Cat. of Gems in Brit. Mus. No. 555) may be quoted as perhaps the very finest example of Greek gem-engraving that has come down to us. It would stand early in the 5th century B.C., a date which would also suit the head of Eos from Ithome in Messenia (fig. 6). The number, however, of fine scarabaeoids known to us has been considerably increased in recent years. They are marked by a broad and simple treatment, which attains a large effect without excessive minuteness or laboured detail. In these respects the style has something in common with the reliefs of the 5th century.
Early Greek Scarab.
Early Greek Scarabaeoid.
of Eos. (Brit.
Literary History.—The literary references to the early gem-engravers are no longer of the same importance as before in view of the fuller knowledge we possess as to the quality of early gem-engraving, but it is necessary that they should be taken into account.
The records of gem-engravers in Greece begin in the island of Samos, where Mnesarchus, the father of the philosopher Pythagoras, earned by his art more of praise than of wealth. “Not to carry the image of a god on your seal,” was a saying of Pythagoras; and, whatever his reason for it may have been, it is interesting to observe him founding a maxim on his father’s profession of gem-engraving (Diogenes Laërt. viii. 1, 17). From Samos also came Theodorus, who made for Polycrates the seal of emerald (Herodotus iii. 41), which, according to the curious story, was cast in vain into the deep sea on purpose to be lost. That the design on it was a lyre, as is stated in one authority, is unlikely, at least if we accept Benndorf’s ingenious interpretation of Pliny (Nat. Hist. xxxiv. 83). He has suggested that the portrait statue of Theodorus made by himself was in all probability a figure holding in one hand a graving tool, and in the other, not, as previously supposed, a quadriga so diminutive that a fly could cover it with its wings, but a scarab with the engraving of a quadriga on its face (Zeitschrift für die österreich. Gymnasien, 1873, pp. 401-411), whence it is not unreasonable to conclude that this scarab in fact represented the famous seal of Polycrates. Shortly after 600 B.C. there was a law of Solon’s forbidding engravers to retain impressions of the seals they made, and this date would fall in roundly with that of Theodorus and Mnesarchus, as if there had in fact been at that time a special activity and unusual skill. That the use of seals had been general long before, in Cretan and Mycenaean times, we have seen above, and it is singular to find, as Pliny points out (xxxiii. 4), no direct mention of seals in Homer, not even in the passage (Iliad, vi. 168) where Bellerophon himself carries the tablets on which were written the orders against his life. From the time of Theodorus to that of Pyrgoteles in the 4th century B.C. is a long blank as to names, but not altogether as to gems, the production of which may be judged to have been carried on assiduously from the constant necessity of seals for every variety of purpose. The references to them in Aristophanes, for example, and the lists of them in the ancient inventories of treasures in the Parthenon and the Asclepieion at Athens confirm this frequent usage during the period in question. The mention of a public seal for authenticating state documents also becomes frequent in the inscriptions. In the reign of Alexander the Great we meet the name of Pyrgoteles, of whom Pliny records that he was no doubt the most famous engraver of his time, and that Alexander decreed that Pyrgoteles alone should engrave his portrait. Nothing else is known of Pyrgoteles. A portrait of Alexander in the British Museum (No. 2307), purporting to be signed by him, is palpably modern.
From literary sources we also learn the names of the engravers Apollonides, Chronius and Dioscorides, but the date of the last-mentioned only is certain. He is said to have made an excellent portrait of Augustus, which was used as a seal by that emperor in the latter part of his reign and also by his successors. Inscriptions on extant gems make it probable that Dioscorides was a native of Aegeae in Cilicia, and that three sons, Hyllos, Herophilus and Eutyches, followed their father’s occupation. We have also a few scattered notices of amateurs and collectors of gems, but it will be seen that for the whole period of classical antiquity the literary notices give little aid, and we must return to the gems.
by Syries. (Brit. Mus.)
Early Inscribed Gems.—Various early gems are inscribed with proper names, which may be supposed to indicate either the artist or the owner of the gem. In some cases there is no ambiguity, e.g. on a scarab is inscribed, “I am the seal of Thersis. Do not open me”; and a scarabaeoid (fig. 7) is inscribed, “Syries made me.” But when we have the name alone, the general principle on which we must distinguish between owner and artist is that the name of the owner is naturally meant to be conspicuous (as in a gem in the British Museum inscribed in large letters with the name of Isagor[as]), while the name of an artist is naturally inconspicuous and subordinate to the design.
The early engravers known to us by their signatures are: Syries, who was author of the modified scarab in the British Museum, mentioned above, with a satyr’s head in place of the beetle, and a citharist on the base—a work of the middle of the 6th century; Semon, who engraved a black jasper scarab now at Berlin, with a nude woman kneeling at a fountain filling her pitcher, of the close of the 6th century; Epimenes, who was the author of an admirable chalcedony scarabaeoid of a nude youth restraining a spirited horse—formerly in the Tyszkiewicz Collection, and of about the beginning of the 5th century. But better known to us than any of these artists is the 5th-century engraver, Dexamenus of Chios, of whose work four examples survive, viz.:—
1. A chalcedony scarabaeoid from Greece, in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, with a lady at her toilet, attended by her maid. Inscribed ΔΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ, and with the name of the lady, ΜΙΚΗΣ.
2. An agate with a stork standing on one leg, inscribed ΔΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ simply.
3. A chalcedony with the figure of a stork flying, and inscribed in two lines, the letters carefully disposed above each other, ΔΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ ΕΠΟΙΕ ΧΙΟΣ.
|Fig. 8.—Greek Sard. 5th Cent. B.C. (Brit. Mus.)|
4. A gem, apparently by the same Dexamenus, is a cornelian formerly belonging to Admiral Soteriades in Athens, and subsequently in the collection of Dr Arthur Evans. It has a portrait head, bearded and inscribed ΔΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ ΕΠΟΙΕ.
The design of a stork flying occurs on an agate scarab in the British Museum, from the old Cracherode Collection, and therefore beyond all suspicion of having been copied from the more recently discovered Kertch gem.
For the period immediately following that early prime to which the gems above described belong, our materials are less copious. Some of the finest examples are derived from the Greek tombs in the Crimea and South Russia. Reckoned among the best of the Crimean gems, and that is equivalent to saying among the best of all gems, are the following: (1) a burnt scarabaeoid with an eagle carrying off a hare; (2) a gem with scarab border and the figure of a youth seated playing on the trigonon, very much resembling the Woodhouse intaglio (both engraved, Compte rendu, 1871, pl. vi. figs. 16, 17). In these, and in almost all Greek gems belonging to this period of excellence, the material is of indifferent quality, consisting of agate, chalcedony or cornelian, just as in the older specimens. Brilliant colour and translucency are as yet not a necessary element, and accordingly the design is worked out solely with a view to its own artistic merit. The scarab tends to die out. The scarabaeoid in its turn is abandoned for the simple ring stone. The subjects chosen take by degrees a different character. Aphrodite (nude), Eros, children and women tend to replace the older and severer themes. The motives of 4th-century sculpture appear by degrees on the gems.
|Fig. 9.—Amethyst Pendant. (Brit. Mus.)|
Etruscan Gems.—At this point it is convenient to discuss the gem-engraving of the Etruscans, which came into being towards the close of the archaic period of Greek art. In the early Etruscan deposits, such as that of the Polledrara tomb in the British Museum (towards 600 B.C.), we find nothing except Phoenician imports of porcelain or stone scarabs, both strongly Egyptian in character. During the 6th century a few of the semi-Egyptian stones of Sardinia make their appearance. But in the latter part of the century these oriental products tend to die out, and we have in their place the native works of Etruscan artists. These engravings stand in the closest relation to Greek works of the close of the 6th century and many imported Greek scarabs also occur.
The Etruscan scarab has its beetle form more minutely engraved than that of the Greeks. It is further distinguished in the better examples, alike from the Greek and the Egyptian form, by a small border of a sort of petal ornament round the lower edge of the beetle. Like the earlier Greek scarabs it has the cable border round the design, but the border continued in use in Etruria when it had been abandoned in Greece. The scarabaeoid form does not occur in Etruscan deposits. Etruscan engraving begins when Greek art was approaching maturity, with studies, sometimes stiff and cramped, of the heroic nude form. Some of the Greek deities such as Athena and Hermes occur, together with the winged personages of Greek mythology. To the heroic types the names of Greek legend are attached, with modifications of form, such as ΤΥΤΕ for Tydeus, and ΚΑΠΝΕ for Capaneus. Sometimes the names are appropriate and sometimes they are assigned at random. The subjects include certain favourite incidents in the Trojan and Theban cycles (e.g. the death of Capaneus); myths of Heracles; athletes, horsemen, a few scenes of daily life. Certain schemes of composition are frequent. In particular, a figure too large for the field, standing and bending over, is made to serve for many types. The engraving of the finer Etruscan gems is minute and precise, marked with elegance and command of the material. Its fault is its want of original inspiration. Special mention must be made of a very numerous group of cornelian scarabs, roughly engraved for the most part with cup-shaped sinkings (whence they are known as gems a globolo tondo) roughly joined together by furrows. Notwithstanding their apparent rudeness, these gems are shown, by the conditions in which they are found, to be comparatively late works of the 4th century. Furtwängler ingeniously suggests that the rough execution was intended to emphasize the shining surfaces of the cup-sinkings, rather than to produce any particular intaglio subject. (For an elaborate classification of the Etruscan scarabs see Furtwängler, Geschichte, p. 170.)
The Cameos.—After the beginning of the regal period, in the 4th century B.C., the introduction of more splendid materials from the East was turned to good account by the development of the cameo, i.e. of gem-carving in relief (for the origin of the word see Cameo). But in its simpler forms the principle of the cameo necessarily dates from the beginning of the art. Thus a lion in rock-crystal was found in the very early royal tomb of Nagada (de Morgan, Recherches, Tombeau de Negadah, p. 193). The Egyptian scarab, on its rounded side, had been naturalistically carved in relief in beetle form. Steatite engravings in relief (notably the harvest festival vase from Hagia Triada) were found in the Cretan deposits. Subjects are found carved in the round in hard stone in Mycenaean graves. When we come to historical Greece and to Etruria the cameo of later times is anticipated by various attempts to modify the traditional form of the scarab. An example in cornelian was found at Orvieto in 1874 in a tomb along with vases dating from the beginning of the 5th century B.C., and it will be seen from the engraving of this gem (Arch. Zeit., 1877, pl. xi. fig. 3) that, while the design on the face is in intaglio, the half-length figure of a Gorgon on the back is engraved in relief. Compare a cornelian fragment, apparently cut from the back of a scarabaeoid, now in the British Museum. As further examples of the same rare form of cameo, the following gems in the British Museum may be mentioned:—(1) a cornelian cut from back of a scarabaeoid, with head of Gorgon surrounded by wings; (2) cornelian scarabaeoid: Gorgon running to left; on face of the gem an intaglio of Thetis giving armour to Achilles; (3) steatite scarabaeoid, already mentioned, signed by Syries, head of a satyr, full face, with intaglio of citharist. There is, however, no evidence at present available to show that the cameo proper had been introduced in Greece before the time of Alexander. The earliest examples found in known conditions are derived from Crimean tombs of the middle of the 3rd century B.C.
Among the most splendid of ancient cameos are those at St Petersburg and Vienna, each representing a monarch of the Diadochi and his consort (Furtwängler, pl. 53). There is much controversy as to the persons represented, but the cameos are probably works of the 3rd century.
The materials which ancient artists used for cutting into cameos were chiefly those siliceous minerals which, under a variety of names, present various strata or bands of two or more distinct colours. The minerals, under different names, are essentially the chalcedonic variety of quartz, and the differences of colour they present are due to the presence of variable proportions of iron and other foreign ingredients. These banded stones, when cut parallel to the layers of different colours, and when only two coloured bands—white and black, or sometimes white and black and brown—are present, are known as onyxes; but when they have with the onyx bands layers of cornelian or sard, they are termed sardonyxes. The sardonyx, which was the favourite stone of ancient cameo-engravers, and the material in which their masterpieces were cut, was procured from India, and the increased intercourse with the East after the death of Alexander the Great had a marked influence on the development of the art.
Akin in their nature to the great regal cameos, which from the nature of the case are cut on a nearly plane surface, are the cups and vases cut out of a homogeneous stone and therefore capable of being worked in the round. A few examples of such works survive. The most famous are the Farnese Tazza and the cup of the Ptolemies. The Tazza, which is now in the National Museum at Naples, was bought by Lorenzo de’ Medici from Pope Paul II. in 1471. It is a large shallow bowl of sardonyx, 8 in. in diameter. On its exterior surface is a Gorgoneion upon an aegis; in the interior is an allegorical design, relating to the Nile flood. The cup of the Ptolemies, formerly known as the cup of St Denis, is preserved in the Cabinet des Médailles of the French Bibliothèque Nationale. It is a cup 43 in. high and 51 in. in diameter, carved out of oriental sardonyx, and richly decorated with Dionysiac emblems and attributes in relief.
|Fig. 10.—Actaeon. Fragment of Sardonyx Cameo. (Brit. Mus.)|
The Cameo in the Roman Empire.—During the 1st century of the empire the engraver’s art alike in cameo and in intaglio was at a high degree of excellence. The artist in cameo took full advantage of his rich opportunities in the way of sumptuous materials, and of the requirements of an imperial court. The two most famous examples of this art which have come down to the present day are the Great Agate of the Sainte Chapelle in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and the Augustus Cameo in the Vienna Collection. The former was pledged among other valuables in 1244 by Baldwin II. of Constantinople to Saint Louis. It is mentioned in 1344 as “Le Camahieu,” having been sent in that year to Rome for the inspection of Pope Clement VI. It is a sardonyx of five layers of irregular shape, like all classical gems, measuring 12 in. by 101 in. It represents on its upper part the deified members of the Julian house. The centre is occupied with the reception of Germanicus on his return from his great German campaign by the emperor Tiberius and his mother Livia. The lower division is filled with a group of captives in attitudes expressive of woe and deep dejection. The Vienna gem (Gemma augustea), an onyx of two layers measuring 85 in. by 71, is a work of still greater artistic interest. The upper portion is occupied with an allegorical representation of the coronation of Augustus, the emperor being represented as Jupiter with Livia as the goddess Roma at his side. In the composition deities of Earth and Sea, and several members of the family of Augustus, are introduced; on the exergue or lower portion are Roman soldiers preparing a trophy, barbarian captives and female figures. This gem was in the 15th century at the abbey of St Sernin at Toulouse. According to tradition it had been placed there by Charlemagne. It came into the possession of the emperor Rudolph II. in the 16th century for the enormous sum of 12,000 gold ducats. The principal cameo in the collection of the British Museum was acquired at the final dispersion of the Marlborough Collection in 1899. It is a sardonyx measuring 83 in. by 6 in., and appears to represent a Roman emperor and empress in the forms of Serapis and Isis. Here also, in imperial times as in the Hellenistic period, side by side with the great cameos, we meet with works carved out in the round. Noted examples of such work are the Brunswick vase (at Brunswick), with the subject of Triptolemus; the Berlin vase with the lustration of a new-born imperial prince; and the Waddesdon vase in the British Museum, with a vine in relief set in a rich enamelled Renaissance mount. Hardly less precious than the cameos in sardonyx were the imitations carved out of coloured glass. The material was not costly, but its extreme fragility made the work of extreme difficulty. Examples of such work are the Barberini or Portland vase, deposited in the British Museum, with scenes supposed to be connected with the story of Peleus and Thetis; and the “vase of blue glass” from Pompeii, in the museum at Naples (see Mau and Kelsey, p. 408). The world’s great cameos, which are hardly more than a dozen in number, have not been found by excavation. They remained as precious objects in imperial and ecclesiastical treasuries and passed thence to the royal and national collections of modern Europe.
The Intaglio in the Roman Empire.—The art of engraving in intaglio was also at a high level of excellence in the beginning of the Roman empire. This is to be inferred alike from the admirable portraits of the 1st century A.D., and from the number of signed gems bearing Roman artists’ names, such as Aulus, Gnaius and the like, which could hardly belong to any other period. It is impossible, however, to found any argument upon the artists’ signatures without taking into account the intricate questions of authenticity which are discussed in the following section.
Signed Gems.—The number of gems which have, or purport to have, the name of the artist inscribed upon them is very large. A great many of the supposed signatures are modern forgeries, dating from the period between 1724 (when the book of Stosch, Gemmae antiquae caelatae, scalptorum nominibus insignitae, first drew general attention to the subject) and 1833, when the multitude of forged signatures (about 1800 in number) in the collection of Prince Poniatowski made the whole pursuit ridiculous. It is known, however, that forged signatures were current before 1724 (see Stosch, p. xxi.), and in the period immediately following they were very numerous. Thus Laurence Natter (Méthode de graver en pierres fines (1754), p. xxx.) confesses that, whenever desired, he made copies. For example, he copied a Venus (Brit. Mus. No. 2296), converting the figure into a Danaë and affixing the name of Aulos which he found on the Venus. Cf. Mariette, Traité (1750), i. p. 101.
The question which of the multitude of supposed signatures can be accepted as genuine has been a subject of prolonged and intricate controversy. In the period immediately following the Poniatowski forgeries the extreme height of scepticism is represented by Koehler, who only acknowledged five gems (Koehler, iii. p. 206) as having genuine signatures. In recent years the subject has been principally dealt with by Furtwängler, whose conclusion is to admit a considerable number of gems rejected by his predecessors.
It must suffice here to point out a few general principles. In the first place a certain number of gems recently discovered have inscriptions which are undoubtedly genuine and which record the names of the engravers. The form of the signature may be a nominative with a verb, a nominative without a verb or a genitive. The artists in this class are Syries, Dexamenus, Epimenes and Semon, mentioned above, and a few others. Another group of gems which must be accepted consists of stones whose known history goes back to a period at which a forged inscription was impossible. Thus a bust of Athena in the Berlin Collection, signed by Eutyches, was seen by Cyriac of Ancona in 1445. A glass cameo signed by Herophilus, son of Dioscorides, now at Vienna, was, in the 17th century, in the monastery of Echternach, where it had probably been from old times. The portrait of Julia, daughter of Titus, by Euodos (now in the Bibliothèque Nationale) was formerly a part of a reliquary presented to the abbey of St Denis by Charles the Bold. Another group of undoubtedly genuine signatures occurs on cameos (in stone and paste) which have the inscriptions in relief, and therefore as part of the original design. Such are the works of Athenion, and of Quintus, son of Alexas.
For the great majority of signed gems which do not fall into these categories the reader must refer to the discussions of Furtwängler and others (see Bibliography below). It must suffice to say that Furtwängler arrives at the result that we have in all genuine signatures of at least fifty ancient gem-engravers.
Gem. The Good
Shepherd. (Brit. Mus.)
Gem. (Brit. Mus.)
Gem. (Brit. Mus.)
Gem-Engraving in the Later Empire.—In the following centuries the art of intaglio engraving, which was still at a high degree of perfection in the first century of the Roman empire, became more mechanical. The designs have a very characteristic appearance, due to the method of production with rough and hasty strokes of the wheel only. A collection of gems found in England, such as that in the possession of the corporation of Bath, shows the feeble character in particular of the gems current in the provinces. Except in portraiture, and in grylli or conceits, in which various things are combined into one, often with much skill, the subjects were as a rule only variations or adaptations of old types handed down from the Greeks. When new and distinctly Roman subjects occur, such as the finding of the head on the Capitol, or Faustulus, or the she-wolf with the twins, both the stones and the workmanship are poor. In such cases, where the design stirs a genuine national interest, it may happen that very little of artistic rendering will be acceptable rather than otherwise, and much more is this true when the design is a symbol of some article of faith, as in the early Christian gems. There both the art and the material are at what may be called the lowest level. The usual subjects on the early Christian gems are the fish, anchor, ship, dove, the good shepherd, and, according to Clemens, the lyre. Under the Gnostics, however, with whom there was more of speculation than of faith, symbolism was developed to an extent which no art could realize without the aid of writing. A gem was to them a talisman more or less elaborate with long, but for the most part quite unintelligible, engraved formulae. The difficulty is to make out how the stones were carried; many specimens exist, but none show signs of mounting. The materials are usually haematite or jasper. As regards the designs, it is clear that Egyptian sources have been most drawn upon. But the symbolism is also largely associated with Mithraic worship. The name Abraxas, or more correctly Abrasax, which, from its frequency on these gems, has led to their being called also “Abraxas gems,” is, when the Greek letters of which it is composed are treated as Greek numerals, equal to 365, the number of days in a year, and the same is the case with ΜΕΙΘΡΑΣ.
More interesting, from the occasionally forcible portraiture and the splendour of some of the jacinths employed, are the Sassanian gems, which as a class may be said to represent the last stage of true gem-engraving in ancient times.
The art of cameo-engraving, which, as we have seen, attained its greatest splendour at the beginning of the empire, followed on the whole a similar course. It waned in the early part of the 3rd century after the death of the emperor Severus, but under the first Christian emperor Constantine it enjoyed a brief period of revival. Fine cameo portraits of Constantine are extant; and it was during or shortly after his reign that Christian Scripture subjects began to appear on cameos. That class of subjects constituted the staple of such work—generally rude and artistically debased—as continued to be cultivated under the Byzantine empire down to nearly the epoch of the Renaissance. From the Byzantine period downward oneof gem-engraving becomes noticeable. Cameo-work as compared with intaglios in classical times was rare and infrequent, but now and onwards the opposite is the case, intaglio-sinking having almost died out, and cameos being chiefly produced. Commercial intercourse with the East still secured for the engravers a supply of magnificent sardonyxes, although blood-stone and other non-banded stones were very commonly used for works in relief. Cameos during the long dark ages were used chiefly for the decoration of reliquaries and other altar furniture, and as such their designs were purely ecclesiastical or scriptural. To this period also belongs the class of complimentary or motto cameos, which, containing only inscriptions and an ornamental border, executed in nicolo stones, were used as personal gifts and adornments.
In medieval times antique cameos were held in peculiar veneration on account of the belief, then universal, in their potency as medicinal charms. This power was supposed to be derived from their origin, of which two theories, equally satisfactory, were current. By the one they were held to be the work of the children of Israel during their sojourn in the wilderness (hence the name Pierres d’Israël), while the other theory held them to be direct products of nature, the engraved figures pointing to the peculiar virtue lodged in them. Interpreters less mystically inclined found Biblical interpretations for the subjects. Thus the cameo of the Sainte Chapelle was supposed to represent the triumph of Joseph in Egypt. A cameo with Poseidon, Athena and her serpent was Adam and Eve.
The revival of the glyptic arts in western Europe dates from the pontificate of the Venetian Paul II. (1464–1471), himself an ardent lover and collector of gems, to which passion, indeed, it is gravely affirmed he was a martyr, having died of a cold caught by the multiplicity of gems exposed on his fingers. The cameos of the early part of the 16th century rival in beauty of execution the finest classical works, and, indeed, many of them pass in the cabinets of collectors for genuine antiques, which they closely imitated. The Oriental sardonyx was not available for the purposes of the Renaissance artists, who were consequently obliged to content themselves with the colder German agate onyx. The scarcity of worthy materials led them to use the backs of ancient cameos, or to improve on classical works of inferior value executed on good material, and probably to this cause must also be assigned the development of shell cameos, which are rarely found, of an older period.
|Fig. 14—Muse, by Pichler. (Brit. Mus.)|
Among the means of distinguishing antique cameos from cinquecento work, the kind of stone is one of the best tests, the classical artists having used only rich and warm-tinted Oriental stones, which further are frequently drilled through their diameter with a minute hole, from having been used by their original Oriental possessors in the form of beads. The cinquecento artists also, as a rule, worked their subjects in high relief, and resorted to undercutting, no case of which is found in the flat low work of classical times. The projecting portions of antique work exhibit a dull chalky appearance, which, however, fabricators learned to imitate in various ways, one of which was by cramming the gizzards of turkey fowls with the gems. Another index of antiquity is found in the different methods of working adopted in classical and Renaissance times. The tools employed by the Renaissance engraver were the drill and the wheel, while the ancient artist also employed the diamond point.
The gem-engraver’s art again during the 18th century revived under an even greater amount of encouragement from men of wealth and rank. In this last period the names of engravers who succeeded best in imitating classical designs were Natter, Pichler (fig. 14), and the Englishmen Marchant (fig. 15) and Burch. Compared with Greek gems, it will be seen that what at first sight is attractive as refined and delicate is after all an exaggerated minuteness of execution, entirely devoid of the ancient spirit. The success with which modern engravers imposed on collectors is recorded in many instances, of which one may be taken as an instructive type. In the Bibliothèque Nationale is a gem (Chabouillet’s catalogue, No. 2337), familiarly known as the signet of Michelangelo, the subject being a Bacchanalian scene. So much did he admire it, the story says, that he copied from it one of the groups in his paintings in the Sistine chapel. The gem, however, is evidently in this part of it a mere copy from Michelangelo’s group, and therefore a subsequent production, probably by da Pescia.
|Fig. 15.—Nereid and Sea-bull by Marchant. (Brit. Mus.)|
In our own day the engraving of cameos has practically ceased to be pursued as an art. Roman manufacturers cut stones in large quantities to be used as shirt-studs and for setting in finger-rings; and in Rome and Paris an extensive trade is carried on in the cutting of shell cameos, which are largely imported into England and mounted as brooches by Birmingham jewelry manufacturers. The principal shell used is the large bull’s-mouth shell (Cassis rufa), found in East Indian seas, which has a sard-like underlayer. The black helmet (Cassis tuberosa) of the West Indian seas, the horned helmet (C. cornuta) of Madagascar, and the pinky queen’s conch (Strombus gigas) of the West Indies are also employed. The famous potter Josiah Wedgwood introduced a method of making imitations of cameos in pottery by producing white figures on a coloured ground, this constituting the peculiarity of what is now known as Wedgwood ware.
Gem Collectors.—The habit of gem-collecting is recorded first in the instance of Ismenias, a musician of Cyprus, who appears to have lived in the 4th century B.C. But though individual collectors are not again mentioned till the time of Mithradates, whose cabinet was carried off to Rome by Pompey, still it is to be inferred that they existed, if not pretty generally, yet in such places as Cyrene, where the passion for gems was so great that the thriftiest person owned one worth 10 minas, and where, according to Aelian (Var. hist. xii. 30), the skill in engraving was astonishing. The first cabinet (dactyliotheca) in Rome was that of Scaurus, a stepson of Sulla. Caesar is said to have formed six cabinets for public exhibition, and from the time of Augustus all men of refinement were supposed to be judges both of the art and of the quality of the stones.
In the middle ages the chief collections were incorporated in works of art in the church treasuries. The first collector of modern times was, as already mentioned, Pope Paul II., who was followed by a long succession of princely and noble collectors such as Lorenzo de’ Medici and the great earl of Arundel. The collection of the latter passed into the hands of the dukes of Marlborough and thence into the possession of Mr David Bromilow. The collection was finally dispersed by auction in June 1899.
In modern times the principal collections are contained in state museums. The cabinets of Vienna and of the Bibliothèque Nationale are incomparably rich in the historic cameos. Those of the British Museum and of Berlin are the strongest in their range over the whole field of the gem-engraver’s art.
Bibliography.—For the fullest general account of the subject (with especial attention to the gems of classical antiquity) see A. Furtwängler, Die antiken Gemmen, Geschichte der Steinschneiderkunst im klassischen Altertum, in 3 vols (1900). See also E. Babelon, La Gravure en pierres fines, camées et intailles (1894); A. H. Smith, “Gemma” and “Sculptura,” in the 3rd edition of Smith’s Dict. of Antiquities; J. H. Middleton, The Engraved Gems of Classical Times (1891). Much curious information is in the works of C. W. King: Handbook of Engraved Gems (1866); Antique Gems (1866); The Natural History, Ancient and Modern, of Precious Stones and Gems, and of the Precious Metals (1865); Antique Gems and Rings (2 vols., 1872).
Special Periods:—Babylonia, &c.—Menant, “Les Pierres gravées de la haute Asie,” Recherches sur la glyptique orientale (1883–1886).
Egypt.—For the early cylinder sealings, &c. see Petrie, “Royal Tombs of the First Dynasty” (Egypt Explor. Fund, XVIIIth Memoir), p. 24; pls. 12, figs. 3 to 7, and pls. 18-29; Amélineau, “Nouvelles Fouilles d’Abydos, 1897–1898,” Compte rendu, pp. 78, 423; pl. 25, figs. 1-3.
The Bible.—Petrie, “Stones (Precious),” in Hastings’ Dict. of the Bible.
Phoenician.—See M.A. Levy, Siegel und Gemmen, with three plates of gems having Phoenician, Aramaic, old Hebrew and other inscriptions (Breslau, 1869); and, on the same subject, De Voguë, in the Revue archéologique, 2nd series (1868), xvii. p. 432, pls. 14-16.
Crete.—Articles by A. J. Evans in Journal of Hellenic Studies, xiv., xvii., xxi., and in Annual of British School at Athens, vi. and onwards.
Classical Gems.—See Furtwängler, op. cit.
Gnostic Gems.—Cabrol, Dict. d’archéologie chrétienne, s.v. “Abrasax.”
For the controversy as to gems with artists’ signatures, see Koehler, Abhandlung über die geschnittenen Steine, mit den Namen der Künstler; Koehler’s collected works, ed. Stephani, vol. iii. (1851); Stephani, Notes to Koehler as above; also Über einige angebliche Steinschneider des Alterthums (St Petersburg, 1851); Brunn, Geschichte der griechischen Künstler, ii. (1859), pp. 442–637; Furtwängler, Jahrbuch d. k. deutsch. arch. Inst. iii. (1888), pp. 105, 193, 297; iv. (1889), p. 46, and Geschichte, passim.
For the history of the Poniatowski gems, see Reinach, Pierres gravées, p. 151.
Catalogues.—The chief catalogues dealing with modern public collections are: Berlin, A. Furtwängler, Beschreibung der geschnittenen Steine im Antiquarium (1896); British Museum, A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Engraved Gems in the British Museum (Dept. of Greek and Roman Antiquities) (1888); Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Chabouillet, Catalogue ... des camées et pierres gravées de la Bibliothèque Impériale (1858); E. Babelon, Catalogue des camées ... de la Bibliothèque Nationale (1897).
Modern Engraving.—Vasari vii. p. 113 (ed. Siena, 1792); continued by Mariette, Traité des pierres gravées (1750), i. p. 105. The older books on gems are very numerous, but those of present-day importance are not many. Faber, Illustrium imagines ... apud Fulvium Ursinum (Antwerp, 1606); Stosch, Gemmae antiquae caelatae, scalptorum nominibus insignitae (Amsterdam, 1724); Winckelmann, Description des pierres gravées du feu Baron de Stosch (1760); Krause, Pyrgoteles, oder die edlen Steine der Alten (1856); a convenient reissue of Stosch, and seven others of the older works, by S. Reinach, Pierres gravées, &c. ... réunies et rééditées, avec un texte nouveau (1895).
Pastes.—The principal collection of glass and sulphur pastes from gems was that issued by James Tassie of Glasgow, with A Descriptive Catalogue of a General Collection of ... Engraved Gems ... arranged and described by R.E. Raspe (the author of Baron Munchausen) (1791). (A. S. M.; A. H. Sm.)
- For Nos. 1-4 see Furtwängler, pl. 14; for Nos. 2-4 see Evans, Rev. archéologique, xxxii. (1898) pl. 8.