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Intaglio - Hades


  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    200 BC-50 BC (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone; Greyish white translucent chalcedony, 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. The subject of this gem has not been positively identified. It could represent Hades, the god of the Underworld, with the three-headed dog Cerberus at his feet. Conversely it could represent Jupiter Serapis, accompanied by an eagle.

Physical description

Vertical oval intaglio. Depicting the standing figure of Hades or Jupiter Serapis, his head turned to the left. He wears a full-length robe, is crowned, and has a cornucopia at his back. He carries a spear in his left hand. To his left at his feet is a small figure of either the three-headed dog Cerberus, or an eagle.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


200 BC-50 BC (made)


Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone; Greyish white translucent chalcedony, set in silver-gilt ring


Height: 11.5 mm, Width: 9.5 mm

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: The subject of this gem could be either Hades, or Jupiter Serapis. Professor Sir John Boardman, who examined it in 2009, identified the subject as Hades, with Cerberus beside him. Others, including Machell Cox, suggest also that it represents Jupiter Serapis, with an eagle at his feet.

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 chalcedony, set in a silver-gilt ring, depicting Hades or Jupiter Serapis, Italy, 200-50 BC

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. 289

Production Note

Graeco-Roman intaglio in a 19th century setting

Attribution note: Greyish white translucent chalcedony


Chalcedony; Microquartz; Silver gilt; Gemstone


Gem engraving; Gilt


Jewellery; Sculpture; Gemstones


Sculpture Collection

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