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Jupiter Ammon

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1820 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone set in gold ring

  • Credit Line:

    Townshend Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case 2, shelf 3

The art of engraving gemstones can be traced back to ancient Greece in the 8th century BC and earlier. Techniques passed down to the Egyptians and then to the Romans. There were major revivals of interest in engraved gems in Europe during the Byantine era, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. At each stage cameos and intaglios, these skillful carvings on a minute scale, were much prized and collected, sometimes as symbols of power mounted in jewelled settings, sometimes as small objects for private devotion or enjoyment. This gem is in the neo-classical style popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s, when taste in the arts echoed the subject matter and style of the Greek and Roman masters. Thousands of gems were made in this style in Italy and brought back by British Grand Tourists, who went there to visit the newly-discovered classical antiquities and archaeological sites. It portrays the Roman god Jupiter in a particular guise known as Jupiter Ammon. After the Roman conquest of Egypt, the Roman god Jupiter acquired some of the attributes of the Egyptian deity Amun, and was sometimes shown with horns. Amun in turn had descended from an earlier north African god who took the form of a ram, and was associated with the protection of the flock and fecundity. The appearance of this cameo, with its striking use of coloured layers, may have been artificially enhanced by the use of staining.

Physical description

Vertical oval cameo. Dark and lighter brown, translucent white and opaque bluish white layered and banded agate. Depicting head of Jupiter Ammon, facing left, horned and bearded, with a dark fillet round his head. Set in a gold ring.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


ca. 1820 (made)


Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone set in gold ring


Height: 35 mm Bezel, Width: 28.5 mm

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 in London, 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 and nineteenth centuries. Many were brought back by British Grand Tourists, and important collections were formed.

Descriptive line

Cameo, oval layered and banded agate set in gold ring, depicting Jupiter Ammon, Italy, about 1820

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. 126
Trusted, Majorie. ed. The Making of Sculpture: the Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: V&A Publications, 2007, p. 144, pl. 270
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, pp. 129-30

Production Note

Attribution note: Some of the colour effects in this cameo are probably the result of staining (J Whalley 2004).


Gold; Layered agate; Gemstone; Microquartz


Gem engraving

Subjects depicted



Jewellery; Sculpture; Myths & Legends; Religion; Gemstones


Sculpture Collection

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