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Cameo - Cupid in a biga (two-horsed chariot)

Cupid in a biga (two-horsed chariot)

  • Object:

    Cameo

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 200 BC-100 CE (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone

  • Credit Line:

    Townshend Bequest

  • Museum number:

    1794-1869

  • 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. Chariots driven by a variety of charioteers including Cupid, god of Love, and Nike, god of Victory, were a common subject for Roman cameos.

Physical description

Horizontal oval cameo. White over pale brownish grey layered agate. Depicts Cupid, naked and winged, driving a chariot drawn to right by two horses. Set in a later gold ring.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)

Date

ca. 200 BC-100 CE (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone

Dimensions

Width: 21 mm approx., Height: 15.5 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 of all dates were widely produced and collected in Italy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many were brought back by British Grand Tourists, and important collections were formed.

Descriptive line

Cameo, oval layered agate of two strata, set in later gold ring, depicting Cupid in a biga, Graeco-Roman, 200 BC-100 CE

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

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. 125
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 2, p. 291

Production Note

Ring ca. 1830-60

Attribution note: White over pale brownish grey translucent chalcedonies.

Materials

Gemstone; Microquartz; Layered agate; Chalcedony

Techniques

Gem-engraving

Categories

Jewellery; Sculpture; Myths & Legends; Gemstones

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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