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Intaglio - Young man

Young man

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    Either 350-400 CE, or ca. 1790-1820 (made)
    19th century (alteration)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone; Pale orange translucent carnelian, set in silver-gilt ring

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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 intaglio demonstrates the difficulties sometimes encountered in dating engraved gems. It has not been possible to decide whether it is actually late Roman, as its appearance at first suggests, or whether it was in fact made in the neo-classical style centuries later. In the late 1700s and early 1800s in Europe, 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.

Physical description

Vertical oval intaglio. Depicting the bust of a young man, facing three quarters right, his shoulders draped. He is clean-shaven and has close cropped hair. On his left is the top portion of a spear or javelin. On his right, an inscription in Greek letters.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


Either 350-400 CE, or ca. 1790-1820 (made)
19th century (alteration)


Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone; Pale orange translucent carnelian, set in silver-gilt ring

Marks and inscriptions

'IERMIA' [in Greek letters]


Height: 15 mm approximate, Width: 14 mm approximate

Object history note

Ex Waterton Collection. Bought by the Museum following inclusion in Christie's sale (undated, not held), lot 46. Edmund Waterton (1830-87) is referred to as one of a group of 'pioneer collectors' by Diana Scarisbrick, 'C.D.E. Fortnum as a collector of rings and gems', C.D.E. Fortnum and the collecting and study of applied arts and sculpture in Victorian England, Ed: Ben Thomas and Timothy Wilson, 1999. His collection of approximately 760 rings, formed with the aim of illustrating the history of rings of all period and types, was acquired by the Museum in 1871 and 1899. Waterton, in 1868 'of Walton Castle, near Wakefield, in the county of York, but now residing at Ostend in the Kingdom of Belgium', got into financial difficulties, and was later to be declared bankrupt. The collection of rings was held as security against a loan by the jeweller Robert Phillips for two years from March of that year. The loan was to be repaid by Waterton by March 1870, but the deadline was not met. Phillips having first contacted the Museum regarding the possible purchase of the rings in 1869, the purchase was recommended by the Board of the Museum in a minute of 20 April 1871. The majority of the rings are held in Metalwork Section, a small number in Sculpture Section.

Historical significance: Professor Sir John Boardman, who examined this gem in 2009, is of the opinion that it could either be late Roman, or Neo-Classical. Machell Cox was also uncertain of its age, citing a similar bust, with the same inscription, among the Tassie casts (Tassie 10639), at the time in the collection of Count Bruhl, and described in Raspe-Tassie as 'post-classical'.

Historical context note

Engraved gemstones of all dates were widely collected in Italy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many were brought back by British Grand Tourists, and important collections were formed.

Descriptive line

Intaglio, oval carnelian, in silver-gilt ring, depicting the bust of a young man, Italy, either 350-400 or 1790-1820

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

List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1871, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., p. 45
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 2, p. 296/7

Production Note

Attribution note: Pale orange translucent chalcedony


Silver gilt; Carnelian; Microquartz; Gemstone; Chalcedony


Gem engraving


Jewellery; Sculpture; Gemstones


Sculpture Collection

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