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Intaglio - Clasped hands with emblems

Clasped hands with emblems

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    200 BC-199 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone; Orange-red 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. The device of the 'Fede', two right hands joined, was a favourite subject for Roman wedding and betrothal rings. This intaglio seal stone was probably given as a keepsake. The clasped hands obviously indicate the union itself, and one explanation for the presence of the various emblems is that each one has its own significance and brings its own particular potency to the marriage. Among these the strength of Hercules may be symbolised by his knotty wooden club, and the fruitfulness of the earth by the ears of corn. Another possible interpretation which has been offered for the emblems is that together they make up a rebus or pictogram on the names of the couple getting married.

Physical description

Horizontal oval intaglio. Two hands clasping each other, and holding an array of emblems. From right to left these are, the knotty club of Hercules, an ear of corn, a seeding poppy-head, a caduseus, another ear of corn. On the wrist of the right hand there is a lizard, and on the braceleted left one, a mouse.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


200 BC-199 (made)


Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone; Orange-red translucent carnelian. Set in silver-gilt ring


Width: 11 mm, Height: 10 mm

Object history note

Ex Waterton Collection. Bought by the Museum following inclusion in Christie's sale (undated, not held), lot 376. 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: Machell Cox notes that Waterton (in the MS catalogue of his collection) describes the emblems as a rebus on the names 'Mus' and 'Sauros'.

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, set in silver-gilt ring, depcting two clasped hands and various emblems, Italy, 200 BC-199 CE

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. 66
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 2, pp. 300/1
Edmund Waterton, Dactyliotheca Watertoniana: a descriptive catalogue of the finger-rings in the collection of Mrs. Waterton, (manuscript), written at Walton Castle, 1866, p. 105, no. 6

Production Note

Graeco-Roman intaglio in a 19th century setting


Carnelian; Silver-gilt; Chalcedony; Gemstone; Microquartz


Gem engraving; Gilt

Subjects depicted



Jewellery; Sculpture; Gemstones


Sculpture Collection

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