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

L. Agostini, Le gemme antiche figurate, vol. 2, Rome, 1686, p. 71, pl. 149.
Cast of gem in Impronte Gemmarie della Collezione Piombino Boncompagni, no. 2, preserved on the Beazley Archive Gem Database, circa early 19th century.
G. Sangiorgi, "Nuovi acquisti della mia collezione di pietre incise," Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 48, 1933, pp. 288-290, pl. 48.1.
G.M.A. Richter, Catalogue of Engraved Gems, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman, Rome, 1956, p. 521, no. 523.
J. Boardman and C. Wagner, Masterpieces in Miniature: Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Present, London, 2018, p. 214, no. 200.


The gold ring has a shallow oval bezel with tapering shoulders and a wide hoop, now flattened. Set within the bezel is a slightly convex oval of green chalcedony engraved with a parrot in profile. The bird stands on a short groundline with closed wings and a long tail curving upwards towards the tip, the plumage well detailed. Its beak is slightly open, and the beaded, rimmed eye is set beneath a pronounced brow.
The species of parrot depicted appears to be an Indian Ringneck, psittacus torquatus, of bright green plumage with a red beak, the head offset by a red ring, a detail accurately portrayed by the engraver. Ringnecks were first encountered during Alexander the Great’s campaign to India. The 2nd century A.D. Roman writer Arrian shares how Alexander’s general Nearchos was taken by surprise when he heard parrots talking like human beings, and the 1st century A.D. Roman writer Athenaeus informs how during the public pageant to celebrate the accession of Ptolemy II, columns of servants carried parrots in cages (see J.M.C. Toynbee, Animals in Roman Life and Art, pp. 247 ff). During the Roman period they must have been enjoyed as exotic pets, and their images are commonly found on frescos, mosaics and gems (see fig. 122 in Toynbee, op. cit.).
For similar examples see no. 619 in Maaskant-Kleibrink, Catalogue of the Engraved Gems in the Royal Coin Cabinet and no. 533 in E. Zwierlein-Diehl, Die Antiken Gemmen des Kunsthistorischen Museum in Wien, which includes a list of others with the same subject. The present example, one of the finest to survive from antiquity, has been well known to ancient gem enthusiasts since its first publication in 1686 when it was part of the Boncompagni collection.

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