Small Wonders: Early Gems and Jewels

Online Auction: 3–9 July 2020 • 1:00 PM BST • London
Small Wonders: Early Gems and Jewels 3–9 July 2020 • 1:00 PM BST • London

This innovative new auction comprises early jewels and gems from antiquity through to the early 19th century. The sale begins with beautiful examples of Roman gold, led by a 1st-century AD Snake Ring, symbolic of eternity. It includes a rediscovered 1st-century carnelian intaglio once owned by Cardinal Albani’s lover Countess Cheroffini. The medieval section of the auction is led by a rare cameo portrait of René of Anjou, King of Naples. A superb Southern German pendant with a Pelican in her Piety leads the Baroque. The auction includes beautiful glyptics of which an intaglio with a youth as Hercules by Luigi Pichler is amongst the most virtuoso. Small Wonders: Early Gems and Jewels includes fine examples of early jewelry for every pocket with estimates ranging from £800 to £50,000.

Featured Highlights

Diana Scarisbrick on the Art of Gem Engraving
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Virtuoso Gem Engraving: The Intaglio

Throughout history the art of gem engraving has been admired by kings, princes and noble collectors. Glyptics as they are known have been treasured throughout the centuries. They were costly due to the risk of discovering flaws in hardstones thus forcing the engraver to adapt their design or start afresh. In the 18th century intaglios became extremely fashionable and signified collectors’ values and aspirations.

Virtuoso Gem Engraving: The Cameo

Cameo carving has been valued since ancient times with monarchs vying to have their portraits cut by the best engravers. To receive a ruler’s image carved in hardstone was a sign of royal favour and proximity to power. A superb example of this is the cameo portrait with René of Anjou who was king of Naples and father of Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI of England. It compares with other portraits of the monarch in the British Museum and the Cabinet des Medailles.

Ancient Jewelry: Amulets & Adornment

Jewelry in antiquity often served the dual function of providing the wearer with fashionable adornment as well as providing protective powers derived from either the material or iconography of the jewelry piece. This sale features rings, necklaces and bracelets from Greece, Egypt and Rome including a Romano-Egyptian snake ring, meant to protect its wearer from poison, and a Byzantine gold and amethyst necklace, whose stones were thought to be able to prevent the ill effects of wine.

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