Lot 72
  • 72

Italian, 16th century

6,000 - 8,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Intaglio of Nike Sacrificing a Bull
  • carnelian, set in an enamelled gold ring
  • Italian, 16th century


William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough (1704 – 1793);
by descent to his son Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough (1758-1844), until sold Christie’s sale at Parkstead House, The Property of a Noble Earl Deceased, April 7th, 1801;
Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough (1706-1758) or George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817), Blenheim Palace Oxfordshire; 
thence by family descent to John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough (1822-1883), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire;
David Bromilow, Bitteswell Hall, Lutterworth, until 1898;
by descent to Julia Harriet Mary Jary (née Bromilow);
Christie, Manson and Woods London, Catalogue of the Marlborough Gems: Being a Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, 27 June 1899, lot 279, 'set in a very pretty Louis XIV seal';
acquired by Wertheimer (23gns), probably the English art dealer Charles John Wertheimer (1842-1911)


L. Natter, Catalogue des pierre gravées, tant en relief qu'en creux de Mylord Comte de Bessborough, London, 1761, no. 106 'MITRAS, qui sacrifie un Taureau; Cornaline montée en Cachet';
M. H. Nevil Story-Maskelyne, The Marlborough Gems, Oxford, 1870, no. 279;
J. Kagan and O. Neverov, 'Lorenz Natter's Museum Britannicum: Gem Collecting in mid-Eighteenth-Century England,' in Apollo II, September 1984, fig. 8.13
J. Boardman, D. Scarisbrick, C. Wagner and E. Zwierlein-Diehl, The Marlborough Gems formerly at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, Oxford, 2009, p. 184, no. 414

Catalogue Note

The subject of this finely engraved Renaissance intaglio has been alternately identified as the Roman cult god Mithras slaughtering the bull or Nike, goddess of Victory, making a sacrifice. Given the absence of Mithras' Phrygian cap, the latter identification is the more plausible. The present gem and its impression have been compared with the impression in the Beazley archive, which is identical. Other impressions of the subject are recorded by Tassie/ Raspe (op. cit., impression nos 7762, a carnelian intaglio; and 7763, a convex amethyst); Lippert I, 697 (Record 8 of 76, 384; the same as Tassie/ Raspe 772); and there is an engraving of the subject published by Pierre Jean Mariette (op. cit., pl. LXXXI); these appear to be different glyptics to the present. It is rare to have two of the celebrated Marlborough gems in one sale. The present intaglio is very finely engraved and is set in a beautifully enamelled 17th-century seal ring mount.

P. J. Mariette in Traité des pierres gravées, Paris, 1750, pl. LXXXI; P. D. Lippert, Dactyliothecae Universalis i, Leipzig, 1755, 697, Record 8 of 76, 384; R.E. Raspe, A Descriptive Catalogue of a General Collection of Ancient and Modern Engraved Gems...by James Tassie..., London, 1791, nos. 7762 and 7763

Sotheby's would like to thank Dr Claudia Wagner of the Classical Art Research Centre, University of Oxford, for kindly providing access to the 19th-century impression for this lot. Special thanks are due to Diana Scarisbrick FSA for her kind assistance in cataloguing this lot.