- Museum number
Cameo; onyx; head of Jupiter in high relief, with wreath in hair; now irregular, the stone has been cut down, only a very narrow edge of the lower stratum remains; in gilt-metal mount.
- Production date
Length: 1.96 inches
- Curator's comments
Text from Dalton 1915, Catalogue of Engraved Gems:
The stone, now irregular in shape, has been cut down, only a very narrow edge of the lower stratum remaining. The back is much chipped. In a gilt metal mount.
Text: J. Rudoe 'The faking of gems in the 18th and early 19th centuries' from Jones 1990, cat. no. 151d
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
Dalton catalogued this cameo as sixteenth century, but Payne Knight, who acquired it as classical, notes in his catalogue that it was discovered when a marsh was drained during the early nineteenth century, and so if not ancient, the cameo is more likely to date from that time. Payne Knight (MS catalogue no. 52) commented on the perfect preservation of the cameo, which was such that the ancient polish could still be seen; this would be surprising for a modern stone found in a marsh, let alone an ancient one.
The bold, almost harsh style of the carving and the arrangement of the curls suggest an early nineteenth-century date. The stone itself is of irregular shape and has been chipped under the beard and on the back, all features which would give an appearance of antiquity to the unwary. The story of its 'discovery' was presumably invented to enhance its value.
Text from Payne Knight's Latin manuscript catalogue
52) Jovis Olympii caput, facie adversa, foliis et baccis olivae coronatum, praeclaro opere, e strato albo opaco onychis Indicae, alii pellucido eiusdem candoris inhaerente exsculptum. Lapis circumquaque praeruptus est, praeter unum locum brevissimum, qui formam integram definire tantum sufficit. Silicis officio, in igne et ferro concusso extendende, diu fractus esse videtur; atque eo mirum est barbam, capillum, et lineamenta oris ita incorrupta et sincera permansisse, ut politura etiam sua antiqua adhuc supersit. In paludibus Pomptinis siccandis, sub Pio VII pontifice Romano, inventa est.
The head of Olympian Jupiter, with his face turned towards the viewer, crowned with the leaves and fruit of an olive tree, in a magnificent work, carved out from a white, opaque layer of Indian onyx, adhering to a translucent one of the same brightness elsewhere. The stone has been broken all the way round, except for one very small place, which suffices to define the whole shape so greatly. By the state of the stone, affected [latin idiom that is difficult to translate], it seems to have been damaged a great while ago; and on account of this, it is extraordinary that the beard, hair, and the lines of the mouth have endured so unspoiled and whole, that even its ancient polish still survives. It was found in the drained Pontine marshes, under Pope Pius VII.
- On display (G1/fc10)
- Exhibition history
1980: lent to Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester for Payne Knight exhibition
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: RPK.52 (Payne Knight Collection)