Sale 19618
Masterpieces in Miniature: Ancient Engraved Gems formerly in the G. Sangiorgi Collection Part II
Online 2 - 16 June 2020
Literature

T. Cades, Descrizione di una Collezione di 8121 impronte in Stucca posseduta in Roma da Tommaso Cades, Incisore in gemme, cavate accuratamente dalle più celebre gemme incise conosciute che esistino nei principali Musei e Collezioni particolari di Europa, divisa in due parti..., vol. IV, Rome, 1836, no. Q. 32.
J. Boardman and C. Wagner, Masterpieces in Miniature: Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Present, London, 2018, p. 215, no. 201.


Engraved on this flat oval yellow jasper is a crocodile in profile, on a groundline, with wavy lines below indicating water from which rise lotus flowers and unopened buds. The crocodile raises its head as well as the tip of its tail, its scales rendered by a series of drilled dots. The stone is mounted as a ring in a 19th century gold setting.

The crocodile was venerated and feared in Egypt and was well-known to the Greeks and Romans. Herodotus, writing during the 5th century B.C., was the first ancient writer to mention them (see pp. 37-41 in K.F. Kitchell, Animals in the Ancient World). In art they are not uncommon, but in a Nilotic context, as with the present gem, the most famous examples are the mosaic from Palestrina, the wall painting from the House of the Doctor at Pompeii, and on several Campana reliefs (nos. 352, 359 and 358 in S. Walker and P. Higgs, eds., Cleopatra of Egypt, From History to Myth). The treatment of the reptile’s scales on the gem is closely paralleled on coins minted by Octavian prior to his adoption of the title Augustus in 27 B.C. (see no. 14 in J.-C. Grenier, et al., Égypte romaine: l'autre Égypte). On the coin, the crocodile is shown without the Nilotic fauna and is framed by the caption AEGVPTO CAPTA, which commemorated Octavian’s conquest of Egypt. Isolated on gems they are comparatively rare (see the example from the von Stosch collection, no. 239 in J. Tassie and R.E. Raspe, A Descriptive Catalogue of a General Collection of Ancient and Modern Engraved Gems). More frequently they are shown with Egyptian deities, and sometimes in multiples on Roman magic gems. The use of yellow jasper is unusual and striking.

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