Agate sealstone in the form of a scarab: a satyr with a wine-cup

Greek, about 550-500 BC

The London Satyr gem (name-piece of the Master of the London Satyr)

Satyrs, mythical creatures that were part-man and part-horse, were followers of the Greek wine-god Dionysos. It is appropriate then that the satyr shown here is waving a wine cup over a bowl designed for mixing wine and water.

Around 550 BC, the Greeks rediscovered the art of engraving hard stones with a drill, an art forgotten since the Bronze Age. The inspiration for the rediscovery, and the rounded scarab beetle shape into which the backs were almost always carved, may well have reached Greece from Phoenicia. Many seals of this type have been found set into rings. Finely carved examples such as this would have been both a practical way of marking ownership and a decorative piece of jewellery.

It is not easy to decide where this seal was made, but satyrs with horse's feet seem most at home either in the Greek east, or in the western Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily.

Enlarged images of this sealstone give the impression that it is in real life much larger than it really is: so much intricate detail has been packed into a tiny space.

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More information

Bibliography

J. Boardman, Archaic Greek gems (London, Thames & Hudson, 1968)

D. Collon (ed.), 7000 years of seals-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

L. Burn, The British Museum book of Gre (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

Dimensions

Length: 2.200 cm
Width: 1.600 cm

Museum number

GR 1865.7-12.106 (Gem 465)

GAA5516

Castellani Collection

Location

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