The Los Angeles-based J. Paul Getty Museum has acquired a collection of 17 ancient engraved gems that include Greek gems of the Minoan, Archaic and Classical periods.
The collection also includes Etruscan and Roman gems, some of which are in their original gold rings. They have never been on public view and were published for the first time in Masterpieces in Miniature. Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Present (London and New York, 2018) by Claudia Wagner and Sir John Boardman.
The gems came from the collection of late Italian art dealer Giorgio Sangiorgi. The great majority of the Sangiorgi gems were acquired before World War II, and many derive from notable earlier collections amassed by Lelio Pasqualini, the Boncompagni-Ludovisi family, the Duke of Marlborough and Paul Arndt .
Comprising some of the finest classical gems still in private hands, the Sangiorgi gems were brought to Switzerland in the 1950s and have remained there with his heirs until now.
Highlights from the acquisition include a Roman intaglio portrait of Antinous, engraved in black chalcedony circa 130-138, and a Roman amethyst ringstone with a portrait of Demosthenes circa late 1st century BC.
“The acquisition of these gems brings into the Getty’s collection some of the greatest and most famous of all classical gems, most notably the portraits of Antinous and Demosthenes,” Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts said, adding that the group includes “many lesser-known works of exceptional skill and beauty that together raise the status of our collection to a new level.”
Potts said that two examples of “lesser-known works of exceptional skill” are the image of three swans on a Bronze Age (c. 1600 BC) seal from Crete and the image of the semi-divine Perseus.
“This acquisition represents the most important enhancement to the Getty Villa’s collection in over a decade,” Potts added.
All 17 gems will be featured as part of a special exhibition opening at the Getty Center in December highlighting recent acquisitions. They will later go on view at the Getty Villa.
The Getty Museum collects Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and decorative arts to 1900, as well as photographs from around the world to the present day.
The Museum displays various collections, loan exhibitions and publications supported by an array of research, conservation and public programs.
See images/descriptions of the gems
Roman black chalcedony intaglio portrait of Antinous (c. 130-138)
“The gem portraying Antinous, the young lover of the Emperor Hadrian (ruled 117-138 A.D.), was engraved on an unusually large black chalcedony stone. Depicted in the guise of a hunter, Antinous wears a cloak over his shoulders pinned in place by a circular fibula and carries a spear. His idealized facial profile features a rounded chin, full lips and thick hair arranged in luscious curls that cover his ears and fall along his neck. The extraordinary quality of the engraving has led many to proclaim this the finest surviving portrait of Antinous in existence in any medium and one of the finest classical gems to have survived since antiquity.
Known as the Marlborough Antinous, it passed through many distinguished collections since its rediscovery, probably in the early eighteenth century. So great was the mania inspired by this gem that its first documented modern owner, the Venetian collector Anton Maria Zanetti (1679-1767), supposedly said that he would have sold his house to buy it. From him the gem was purchased by George Spencer (1739-1817), the 4th Duke of Marlborough, who wrote that it was “of an incredible beauty,” making it the highlight of perhaps the most extraordinary collection of antique gems ever assembled. It was sold at auction with the entire Marlborough Collection of gems to David Bromilow in 1875 and then separately in 1899 to Charles Newton Robinson, whose collection was in turn dispersed at auction ten years later. It was acquired at auction in 1952 in London by Sangiorgi who considered it an “excellent work of courtly art comparable with the most celebrated portraits of Antinous….”From the Getty Museum
Roman amethyst ringstone with portrait of Demosthenes (c. late 1st century BC)
The extraordinary frontal portrait of Demosthenes, the 4th century B.C. Greek orator, is the other great masterpiece of the Sangiorgi collection. It is signed by the gem engraver Dioskourides, who is mentioned by ancient writers as the court gem engraver to the emperor Augustus (ruled 27 BC-AD 14) and is today regarded as one of the greatest gem engravers of Roman times. The intaglio image is cut so deeply that the impression stands out in unusually high relief, reading more like a statue in the round. Demosthenes wears a mantle over one shoulder and turns his head slightly to one side. The orator is bearded, with a full mustache framing his lips. His brows are knitted and his forehead creased, giving him a seriousness of expression appropriate to the subject of his famous Philippics. When it was in the collection of the Roman collector Lelio Pasqualini (1549-1611), the gem piqued the interest of every antiquarian, Grand Tour traveler, and glyptic scholar of the day, and its renown has only increased over time.From the Getty Museum
Minoan blue chalcedony tabloid seal with three swans (c. 16th century BC)
Greek mottled red jasper scaraboid with Perseus (c. 4th century BC)
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