- Museum number
Cameo; onyx; head of Jupiter to right, with wreath of oak-leaves; below, a thunderbolt; inscribed; the stone is cracked diagonally from side to side.
- Production date
Length: 3 inches
- Curator's comments
Text from Dalton 1915, Catalogue of Engraved Gems:
It is impossible to accept the evidence of this document, for the style of the gem is that of the eighteenth century, when the signatures of Graeco-Roman gem-engravers were systematically counterfeited. For the signature of Dioscorides see Introduction, p. lxii, and cf. nos. 614, 615, 849, 933. Pencilled addition 1099.
Text: J. Rudoe 'The faking of gems in the 18th and early 19th centuries' from Jones 1990, cat. no. 151c
By the 1770s the market in classical sculptures, bronzes, coins and gems had come to be dominated by British dealers resident in Rome. Chief amongst these were James Byres and Thomas Jenkins, both of whom supplied antique gems. Jenkins's main trade was in highly restored sculptures; during the 1760s he was assisted in 'putting antiques together' by the English sculptor, Joseph Nollekens, who, some years later, recalled the method by which Jenkins met the demand for antique gems:
"as for Jenkins, he followed the trade of supplying the foreign visitors with intaglios and cameos made by his own people, that he kept in a part of the ruins of the Coliseum [sic], fitted up for 'em to work in slyly by themselves. I saw 'em at work though, and Jenkins gave a whole handful of 'em to me to say nothing about the matter to anybody else but myself. Bless your heart! he sold 'em as fast as they made 'em'."
The taste for gems reached a peak in the 1780s. Jenkins found dealing in gems to be so profitable that by the
1790s he had given up dealing in pictures and marbles.
The engravers who worked for dealers like Jenkins were often very talented; both the English gem-engraver Nathaniel Marchant, who worked in Rome from 1772 to 1778, and the Italian engraver Benedetto Pistrucci (see registration no. 1824,0301.86) were known to have made convincing imitations of antique gems which were sold as ancient.
Neo-classical work, however, tended to follow the conventions of the time in restrained, well-spaced and sometimes sentimental compositions. It also responded to the specific demands of collectors of the period. Discussion by authors like Maffei, von Stosch, Gori, Natter and Mariette of ancient signatures stimulated a strong demand for signed pieces, while Lippert's Daktiliothek (1767), a catalogue accompanied by plaster casts, made collection by subject fashionable. As a result, neo-classical fake gems frequently feature subject matter unknown to the classical repertoire and bear signatures otherwise known only from ancient literature.
Literature: P. D. Lippert, 'Daktiliothek', Leipzig 1767; J. T. Smith, 'Nollekens and his Times', London 1828; P. & H. Zazoff, 'Gemmensammler und Gemmen forscher', Munich 1983.
Cameo head of Jupiter with thunderbolt
This was acquired by Payne Knight as the work of the Greek gem-engraver Dioscorides, who worked in Rome in the early Roman Imperial period. It was carved in Italy in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century with a faked signature 'by Dioscorides', and supplied to Payne Knight with a 'certificate of authenticity' in the form of a pen drawing; this stated on the back in an eighteenth-century hand that the gem had been found when digging the foundation of the infirmary in the garden of Santa Trinità de' Monti in Rome in 1576 (see Dalton). Although a fake, this is a neo-classical work of the highest quality.
Text from Payne Knight's Latin manuscript catalogue
108) Jovis Dodonaei caput, infra fulmen; e strato albo opacissimo onychis, alii semipellucido rubescenti inhaerente exsculptum; ante “ΔΙΟΣΚΟΥΡΙΔΟΥ”.
The head of Jupiter of Dodona, a thunder-bolt beneath; carved out from a white, most opaque layer of onyx, adhering to a semi-translucent, reddening one elsewhere; inscribed “DIOSKOURIDOU” behind.
- On display (G47/dc3)
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: RPK.108 (Payne Knight Collection)