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Intaglio - Medusa


  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    1750-1800 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone in silver ring

  • Credit Line:

    Given by R. C. Lucas

  • 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 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. The Medusa head, with its snake-entwined hair and deadly gaze, was a popular subject. The Medusa, or Gorgon, was a female monster whose stare turned anyone who met it to stone. In Greek mythology she was confronted and beheaded by the hero Perseus, who avoided death by looking at her reflection only in his polished shield.

Physical description

Horizontal oval intaglio. Light mauve translucent garnet. Depicting the head of Medusa in profile to the right. There are snakes and a pair of small wings among her hair. In a silver gilt ring.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


1750-1800 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone in silver ring


Height: 9 mm approximate, Width: 11 mm approximate

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, oval garnet, set in silver gilt ring, depicting the head of Medusa, Italy, 1750-1800

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 2, Section 2, p. 290

Production Note

Attribution note: This object was formerly incorrectly described as being made from amethyst. Identified by inclusions and RI measurement. J Whalley May 2009.


Garnet; Gemstone; Silver


Gem engraving


Jewellery; Sculpture; Myths & Legends


Sculpture Collection

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