- Museum number
Cornelian intaglio, in a chased gold setting with a milled rim and a border of anthemion leaves, showing a scene of combat between a charioteer and a warrior with a dead soldier on the ground and with a faked Greek signature.
- Production date
Width: 3.80 centimetres (intaglio)
- Curator's comments
Text from catalogue of the Hull Grundy Gift (Gere et al 1984) no 837:
Made for Prince Stanislaus Poniatowski, and tentatively identified as the gem described thus: 'Hector standing over the dead body of Aretus is about to attack with his spear Automedon in order to obtain the horses of Achilles which Automedon in his chariot is urging on' (see Christie's sale catalogue, 29 April 1839, lot no.1115). Other gems from the Poniatowski collection survive in similar settings, made for the Prince in Rome. As the gems came on the market in the nineteenth century, after having been thoroughly discredited as works of antiquity, they were often bought for the value of the gold alone, so many of the settings were destroyed.
It is surely no coincidence that the composition and style of this gem are very close to the line engravings by Piroli, after designs by John Flaxman for the illustrations to the Iliad (1793), notably in this instance the scene of Achilles dragging the body of Hector around the Walls of Troy (pl.32). Many of the Poniatowski gems have obvious affinities with contemporary neo-classical sculpture, particularly the work of Canova, but Poniatowski disingenuously explained this by suggesting that his gems had provided Canova with the subjects for his sculptures. Hartmann has demonstrated the connection between Thorwaldsen's circular relief of Hercules and Hebe (1807-10) and one of the gems from the Poniatowski collection, comparing it as well with the same subject treated as a gem, now lost, by Guiseppe Girometti (see Hartmann 1979, p.130, pl.75, which seems to substantiate the tradition that Girometti was responsible for providing some of the faked gems in the Poniatowski collection. (Charlotte Gere)
See 'The faking of gems in the eighteenth century' by Judy Rudoe in 'Why Fakes Matter: Essays on Problems of Authenticity' ed. Mark Jones, London 1992. fig. 8.
Text: J. Rudoe 'The Poniatowski gems' from Jones 1990, cat no. 154b.
Prince Stanislas Poniatowski (1754-1833) inherited the nucleus of his gem collection from his uncle, King Stanislas Augustus of Poland (1732-98). King Stanislas' collection, acquired from agents in France and Italy, comprised ancient, Renaissance and modern gems by celebrated contemporary engravers: Guay, Natter, G. Pichler, Cades, Marchant and Burch. Educated by his uncle, Prince Stanislas became by the 1780s a voracious collector of antiquities, intent on outstripping his Polish rivals in Rome, where he settled in 1791 to devote himself to his collecting.
By the time he died Poniatowski's gem collection was renowned for its size and, more particularly, for its inaccessibility: the Prince kept his gems closely guarded and his long-awaited catalogue finally appeared, without an author's name but presumably written by the Prince himself, two years before his death, in 1831. It contained 2,601 gems, of which about twenty were cameos and the rest intaglios, all of remarkably similar large dimensions, and many with elaborately chased gold mounts (see cat. no.154b (registration no. 1978,1002.445). Another disquieting feature was the number of gems bearing the signatures of ancient engravers, 1,737 in all. In his review the French scholar R. Rochette wrote: 'The collection . . . is full of works by Pyrgoteles, Polyclites, Apollonides, Dioscurides, in greater numbers than there were in antiquity itself, while the Berlin curator of gems E. Tölken expressed reasonable surprise at the striking resemblance in style between gems signed by Greek engravers and those signed by Roman engravers: 'Pyrogoteles works like Evodus and there are more than 400 years between them'. But the full scandal did not break until after the Prince's death.
Some items were dispersed in the next few years, but the bulk of the collection was eventually sold at Christie's in London on 29 April 1839, where 1,140 gems were purchased for £12,000 by the collector Colonel John Tyrrell. Tyrrell, wishing to publish his newly acquired gems, commissioned the antiquary Nathaniel Ogle to write an introduction. But to Tyrrell's fury Ogle exposed the gems as works of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A newspaper polemic between Tyrrell and Ogle ensued, from which it emerged that Prince Poniatowski had ordered his gems from Italian engravers like Pichler, Giuseppe Girometti and Nicolo Cerbara. The gems were to illustrate episodes from Greek mythology and literature. He then had the false signatures put on by other engravers, Cades and Odelli being among those cited.
'Intaglio of Hector and Automedon'
In the Christie's sale catalogue (lot 1115) this intaglio is described as follows: 'Hector standing over the dead body of Aretus, is about to attack with his spear Automedon, in order to obtain the horses of Achilles, which Automedon on the chariot is urging on'. Both composition and style are close to Flaxman's designs for the 'Iliad' of 1793, especially plates 22 and 32. Engravings after Flaxman's outline drawings were first published in Rome by Thomas Piroli as a set of thirty-four plates. This gem was not among those purchased by Tyrrell. The fake signature is that of Apollonides, an engraver of the Roman Imperial period, who is mentioned by Pliny as second only to Pyrgoteles.
Literature: S. Reinach, 'Les Pierres Gravées de la collection Poniatowski', La Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosité, no. 1 (5 January 1895), pp. 2-3 and no. 2 (12 January 1895), pp. 11-13; J. Prendeville, Photographie Facsimiles of the Antique Gems formerly possessed by the late Prince Poniatowski, London 1857 & 1859 (Tyrrell Collection); O. Neverov, 'The Art Collections of the two Poniatowski's', Muzei 2 (Moscow 1981), pp. 171-96.
- On display (G47/dc3)
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Iliad
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: HG.445 (masterlist number)