Medieval Rings

les Enluminures
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CUPID CAMEO RING

Roman Empire, 3rd century (?)

Gold and onyx

  • 4.900 €
  • £4,200
  • $5,500
  • CUPID CAMEO RING

    Roman Empire, 3rd century (?)
    Gold and onyx
    Weight 7.2 gr; circumference 51.2 mm.; size US 5¾; UK L

    Cupid or Eros (in Greek) is perhaps today’s favorite god of the ancient world. Eros and Cupid are often conflated, even in ancient Rome, but they were actually different figures with different “biographies.” Just as the fat and mischievous, winged boy’s image adorns everything from Valentine’s cards to coffee mugs today, he appeared on countless objects in the ancient world, from architecture and painting, to jewelry, like the present cameo. Conveying love, fickleness, and even pain, cupid was also a symbol of triumph.

    Description
    Substantial D-section hoop gently widening at the shoulder to hold an oblong bezel. The collet setting holds a grey onyx cameo depicts the head of a cupid carved in high relief. Wings appear under the head. The cameo is in superior condition; the setting is modern.

    Literature
    Cameos of Cupid’s head appear infrequently in publication in comparison to Medusa head. The two types share some similarities, however, that allow us to offer an approximate date for the present cameo in the the second or third century. Big puffy checks, a round dimpled chin, and closely cropped curls suggest this is a portrait of a child. For similar ancient gems figuring a child’s head see: Richter 1956. No. 486 and Head of Eros in the Marlborough Collection (now lost, 143.BFAC). See also Poniatowski collection nos. 2089, 2090, and 2091. The wings underneath the head suggest, however, that this is the figure of Eros. For a similar depiction see the amethyst and carnelian intaglios (79 – N. 49 and 45 I Ba 9) in the Cologne Cathedral Treasury (Zwierlein-Diehl, 1998).

    Reference number: 288

  • Cameo

    Relief carving (a carving that comes up above the surface) on a shell or stone. In multi-colored cameos, a layered substrate is used (with two different colors), and when part of the upper layer is carved away, the second color emerges as the background.

  • Ancient

    The term “ancient” can include everything from Egypt to Etruscan and Phoenician to Greece, literally thousands of years of history. Here we are concerned primarily with Hellenistic and Imperial Rome. The Hellenistic age extends from c. 325 B.C. until the inauguration of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C.; and Imperial Rome thereafter until the reign of Constantine from c. 306-327 and the Sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths led by Alaric.

    Both gold (from extensive new mining operations) and precious stones (from new trade routes) were plentiful during the Hellenist Age, and jewelry was highly prized as conveying social status. Multicolored gemstones were in frequent use, chalcedonies, cornelians, and above all garnets (from India). Seed pearls, emeralds, and amethysts also are found by the first and second centuries B.C. While Hellenistic jewelry much imitated Greek prototypes, some forms originate during this era, and they include the Heracles knot that remained popular through Roman times and the hinged ring.

    At first, Roman rings of the Imperial period were relatively simple, but by the first century the taste for luxury and displays of wealth was much noted by Roman writers. Martial and other critics of Roman society parodied the newly rich (see Spier 2012, p. 12). One of his epigrams ridicules the dandy Charinus, who wears six rings on each finger and never takes them off because he does not have a gem case (implying that he does not own them they are rented). In Petronius’s Satyricon, Fortunata the wife of a former slave is mocked for wearing at least “six and half pounds on her” during a banquet. These accounts speak to the wide availability of jewelry during this era. Among the new forms, the new pierced openwork in gold (opus interrasile) is worth noting. By the later Roman Empire, especially the third through fifth centuries, Roman jewelry becomes more sophisticated: among the forms that date from this time are double- and triple- bezel rings, as well as the pyramid setting.

    A certain amount of information survives concerning the making of jewelry in antiquity. Jewelry is almost always described by weight and if there are stones the weight without the stones is given. These weights are closely related to those of coinage, so customers may have supplied coins to itinerant or shop-based craftsmen. There were certainly guilds in Roman times. We also suspect that children worked as jewelers and engravers; there is a tombstone of a 19 year old gem engraver known. Archeological finds reveal that shops surrounding the marketplace belonged to retail traders dealing with the local market; there are transfer and rental agreements for jewelry shows (see Ogden 1982, p. 177). The shop of one jeweler was only 5 feet by 4 feet in size, much like artisan’s workshops throughout the medieval era. Certainly itinerant goldsmiths must also have existed.

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CUPID CAMEO RING

Roman Empire, 3rd century (?)
Gold and onyx
Weight 7.2 gr; circumference 51.2 mm.; size US 5¾; UK L

USD $5,500

Cupid or Eros (in Greek) is perhaps today’s favorite god of the ancient world. Eros and Cupid are often conflated, even in ancient Rome, but they were actually different figures with different “biographies.” Just as the fat and mischievous, winged boy’s image adorns everything from Valentine’s cards to coffee mugs today, he appeared on countless objects in the ancient world, from architecture and painting, to jewelry, like the present cameo. Conveying love, fickleness, and even pain, cupid was also a symbol of triumph.

Description
Substantial D-section hoop gently widening at the shoulder to hold an oblong bezel. The collet setting holds a grey onyx cameo depicts the head of a cupid carved in high relief. Wings appear under the head. The cameo is in superior condition; the setting is modern.

Literature
Cameos of Cupid’s head appear infrequently in publication in comparison to Medusa head. The two types share some similarities, however, that allow us to offer an approximate date for the present cameo in the the second or third century. Big puffy checks, a round dimpled chin, and closely cropped curls suggest this is a portrait of a child. For similar ancient gems figuring a child’s head see: Richter 1956. No. 486 and Head of Eros in the Marlborough Collection (now lost, 143.BFAC). See also Poniatowski collection nos. 2089, 2090, and 2091. The wings underneath the head suggest, however, that this is the figure of Eros. For a similar depiction see the amethyst and carnelian intaglios (79 – N. 49 and 45 I Ba 9) in the Cologne Cathedral Treasury (Zwierlein-Diehl, 1998).

Reference number: 288

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