- Museum number
Cameo; onyx; Meleager and Atalanta; Meleager stands to right, his mantle hanging from his left arm; in right hand he holds the hind legs of the Calydonian Boar, the head of which projects in the middle of the gem; Atalanta is seated on the left, upon a rock with her mantle on her left arm; signed; the stone is cut in very high relief, the left leg of Meleager is undercut; in gilt mount.
- Production date
Length: 0.90 inches
- Curator's comments
Text from Dalton 1915, Catalogue of Engraved Gems:
In a gilt mount.
The heads of the two figures are broken off.
The stone is cut in very high relief, the l. leg of Meleager being undercut.
This gem was published by Stosch (Reinach, Pierre gravées, pl. 137, no. 67), the two figures having recieved fresh heads in the eighteenth century; these are now removed. Before it came into Lord Carlisle's possession it was in the Cabinet of Cardinal Ottoboni.
A.S. Murray, Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1891, p. 134; Pierres de Stosch, p. 185, no. 1087; Bracci, ii, pl. 111; Brunn, Gesch. der griechischen Künstler, ii, p. 585; C.I.G., no. 7264; Furtwängler, Jahrbuch des k. deutschen Arch. Inst., 1889, p. 63; Köhler, Gesammelte Schriften, iii, p. 177.
For other references see Reinach, as above. For the signature cf. nos. 133, 770; Introduction lxii (added in pencil)
According to Oleg Neverov, this gem was once owned by Rubens: see O. Neverov 'Gems in the Collection of Rubens', Burlington Magazine CXXI, July 1979, pp. 424-432, fig. 33, wrongly credited to the Hermitage. Neverov's evidence comes from the corresponcence between Rubens and Peiresc; he assumes that this gem is the one mentined by Rubens in a letter of 1630 as 'the Roman Sostratus gem' that 'lacks heads'.
Text: J. Rudoe 'The faking of gems in the Renaissance' from Jones 1990, cat. no. 141a
Engraved gems were highly prized in antiquity and from the fifteenth century were passionately collected by the great humanists of the Italian Renaissance, the most celebrated collection being that of the Medici of Florence, especially Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-92). Collectors were prepared to pay huge sums for them: Pope Paul II (r. 1464-71), learning that the city of Toulouse owned an ancient cameo of outstanding beauty, offered, besides a large sum and some privileges for their basilica of St Saturnin, to build them a bridge in exchange for it (Weiss 1969).
This interest in ancient gems gave the art of gem-engraving, centred in Italy, a renewed stimulus; the engravers modelled their work on classical sources, but these were as likely to be ancient coins or sculpture as the gems of antiquity themselves. These gems, cut all'antica, were admired and collected in their own right, but in the absence of contemporary information it is impossible to know whether they were also passed off as ancient at the time they were made. However, the artists who cut the dies for forged coins were usually gem-engravers: Domenico Compagni of Rome made deliberate imitations of Greek coins, and though they may never have been intended to deceive, once in circulation they inevitably did. That a similar situation obtained with regard to engraved gems is an unavoidable conclusion. As a gem-engraver, Compagni was admired for his mastery of ancient techniques; he is known to have supplied his own work to Francesco de' Medici in the 1570s. Some of his gems were cut in imitation of ancient coins, but in a letter to Francesco in 1578 he openly acknowledged his debt to the gem-engravers of antiquity; in discussing the Roman style, he wrote: 'I tried to observe all the skill practised by the ancients by leaving a narrow border, cutting in low relief, and by avoiding crudeness in the colour and other matters' (McCrory 1987). The cameo of Mercury (registration no. 18240301.67) is carved in precisely this way.
The only way of distinguishing ancient from Renaissance gems is on the grounds of style, and some of the characteristics which are usually thought to be significant in forming a judgement are mentioned in the entries below; but, as with any stylistic analysis, the final conclusion remains a matter of opinion.
Literature: R. Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity, Oxford 1969, pp. 187-8; M. McCrory, 'Domenico Compagni: Roman Medallist and Antiquities dealer of the Cinquecento', in Italian Medals, Washington 1987, pp. 118-19.
Cameo of Meleager offering the Calydonian boar to Atalanta
This cameo was published in 1724 by Baron Philip von Stosch as ancient, but catalogued by Dalton as sixteenth century. The stone is carved in very high relief, and the projecting undercut limbs and vigorous modelling suggest a sixteenth-century date. However, the signature in Greek characters of Sostratus, a gem-engraver of the Roman Imperial period, is most likely to have been added in the early eighteenth century, when collectors began to pay a premium for a signed gem.
The signature was already regarded as problematic in Stosch's 1724 publication of this gem, then owned by Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome. Stosch noted the misspelling of the name Sostratus, without the second 's', and concluded that since a Greek engraver would not have misspelt his own name, the gem must be by another hand.
Literature: P. Stosch, Gemmae Antiquae Caelatae, Amsterdam 1724, pl. LXVII; J. Winckelmann, Description des Pierres Gravées du feu Baron Stosch, Florence 1760, p. 185, no. 1087 (the gem never belonged to Stosch, but is mentioned here as one of a group signed Sostratus); S. Reinach, Pierres Gravées desCollections Marlborough etc. 1895, pl. 137, no. 67 (a discussion of Stosch's 1724 publication).
- On display (G1/fc10)
- Associated events
- Associated Event: Calydonian Boar Hunt
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Other BM number: 1890,0601.25 (Greek and Roman reg.no)