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Intaglio - Cupid resting on a staff

Cupid resting on a staff

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    1785-1820 (made)
    100 BC - 100 CE (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone

  • Credit Line:

    Townshend Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The art of engraving gemstones has been admired since the early days of the Roman empire. It was revived in Europe during the Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cameos and intaglios were prized and collected, sometimes as symbols of power and mounted in jewelled settings, sometimes as small objects for private devotion or enjoyment. Occasionally, as in this case, later engravers were so skilled at reproducing the techniques and styles of the ancient artists that it can be very difficult to decide which era a gem comes from. Cupid, the god of love, here leans on a knotty staff which may represent the club of Hercules. In this guise he symbolizes the power of love to disarm the strong.

Physical description

Vertical oval cabochon (domed) intaglio. Translucent vivid green chalcedony. A figure of Cupid, naked and winged, facing left and resting on a staff. Set in a gold ring.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


1785-1820 (made)
100 BC - 100 CE (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone


Height: 9 mm approx., Width: 7 mm approx.

Object history note

This gem was part of the collection of the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868), who bequeathed his important collection to the South Kensington Museum in 1869. Although the gemstone collection is not as comprehensive as that found at the Natural History Museum, it is of particular historic interest as its formation pre-dates the development of many synthetic stones and artificial enhancements. All the stones were mounted as rings before they came to the Museum. Some are held in the Sculpture Section, other more elaborately mounted ones in the Metalwork Section.

As well as being a clergyman, collector and dillettante, the Reverend Townshend wrote poetry. He met Robert Southey in 1815 and through him the Wordsworths, the Coleridges and John Clare. He was a friend of Charles Dickens and dedicatee of his novel 'Great Expectations'.

Historical context note

Engraved gemstones based on classical models were widely produced and collected in Italy in the eighteenth century. Many were brought back by British Grand Tourists, and important collections were formed.

Descriptive line

Intaglio depicting Cupid resting on a staff, oval chrome chalcedony, set in gold ring, Italy, either c. 100 BC - 100 CE, or 1785-1820

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 1, pp. 163-4
List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1869, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., p. 88

Production Note

Ring ca. 1830-60

Attribution note: Vivid green translucent chalcedony. Red under Chelsea Colour Filter indicating presence of chromium as the colourant. Small black opaque crystal inclusions.


Chrome chalcedony; Gemstone; Microquartz




Jewellery; Sculpture; Religion; Gemstones


Sculpture Collection

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