- Museum number
Intaglio; sard; boar descending from rocks and attacked by dog; inscribed; in gilt mount.
- Production date
Length: 0.44 inches
- Curator's comments
Text from Dalton 1915, Catalogue of Engraved Gems:
In a gilt mount.
B.M. Cat. of Gems, 1888, no. 1933.
For the antique engraver Dioscorides, see Introduction p. lxii, and cf. nos. 54, 614, 615, 849, 1099.
Text: J. Rudoe 'The faking of gems in the 18th and early 19th centuries' from Jones 1990, cat. no. 151f
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.
Intaglio of a boar
This tiny intaglio, depicting a boar being attacked by a dog, is engraved with a false signature in Greek characters 'by Dioscorides'. The first three letters are below the boar's head, the rest below his hind-parts. The gem was purchased by the British Museum as ancient in 1865 from Alessandro Castellani (see also registration nos 1873,0820.643; 1872,0604.649 and 1873,0820.211).
Castellani had few scruples about repairing ancient jewellery or putting together disparate fragments, but it is impossible to say whether, in this instance, he had the signature added to what he thought was an ancient gem or whether he knowingly sold a fake of the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. The collector Count Tyszkiewicz held that Castellani's connoisseurship failed completely over gems, being frequently deceived by poor modern fabrications. But even today the minuteness of this gem makes stylistic analysis difficult; the opacity of the stone means that one has to work almost entirely from a cast. In such cases the distinction between ancient gem and modern copy cannot always be made.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Other BM number: 1865,0712.212 (Greek and Roman reg.no)