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Intaglio - Thanatos (Death)

Thanatos (Death)

  • Object:

    Intaglio

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    31 BC-14 BC (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone, red jasper.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by R. C. Lucas

  • Museum number:

    231-1865

  • 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 intaglio must be connected with mourning.
In Greek mythology the winged youths Thanatos (Death) and his brother Hypnos (Sleep) were the children of Nyx (Night). Both had attributes - objects traditionally associated with them in images. Hypnos is often shown with an owl and a poppy, denoting night time and the drowsiness induced by the narcotic plant, or with wings attached to his head. Thanatos has an upturned, guttering torch, denoting the extinction of life.

Physical description

Upright oval intaglio. Red jasper. Depicting the winged youth Thanatos (Death). He leans on an upturned, smoking torch, his right leg crossed over his left, and his chin on his hand. In a gold ring.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)

Date

31 BC-14 BC (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone, red jasper.

Dimensions

Height: 1.3 cm, Width: 0.9 cm

Object history note

Given by the British neo-classical sculptor Richard Cockle Lucas in 1865, together with twenty-two ivory carvings, twelve waxes, sixteen other gems, a marble group and a portrait in plaster.

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, carved oval red jasper set in later gold ring, depicting Thanatos (Death), Graeco-Roman, ca. 31-14 BC

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

Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1865. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 30
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 1, p. 51

Production Note

Graeco-Roman intaglio in an 18th century setting

Materials

Jasper; Gemstone; Microquartz

Techniques

Gem engraving

Subjects depicted

Death

Categories

Sculpture; Jewellery; Myths & Legends

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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