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Article: Engraved gem

Engraved gem

Engraved Gem Technique

  • Gemstones were cut using abrasive powder from harder stones and a hand-drill or lathe.
  • Magnifying lenses were not used by gem cutters in antiquity.
  • Medieval gem-carving techniques were described in a guide by Theophilus Presbyter.
  • Byzantine cutters used a flat-edged wheel on a drill for intaglio work.
  • Gemstones can have their color enhanced using artificial methods such as heat, sugar, and dyes.

History of Engraved Gems

  • Engraved gems have an ancient tradition in the Near East and were used in various early cultures.
  • Cylinder seals were the usual form in Mesopotamia and spread to other cultures.
  • Greek gems emerged under Minoan influence and reached refinement in the Hellenistic period.
  • Ancient Egyptian seals often had inscriptions in hieroglyphs.
  • Greek gems from the 8th and 7th centuries BC usually depicted animals in geometric poses.

Evolution of Gem Forms

  • Early gems were mostly round or oval, with scarab backs and animals or divine figures.
  • Gems of the 6th century BC became more oval and showed more detail.
  • 5th-century gems became somewhat larger and showed fine detail, including signed gems by Dexamenos of Chios.
  • Relief carving became common in 5th-century BC Greece.
  • The cameo form reached Greece around the 3rd century BC.

Roman and Medieval Engraved Gems

  • Roman gems continued Hellenistic styles and included portraits of philosophers.
  • The Romans invented cameo glass as a cheaper material for cameos.
  • Antique engraved gems were highly valued during the European Middle Ages.
  • Gems were used to decorate goldsmith works such as crowns and book-covers.
  • Engraved gems with religious scenes were produced in Byzantium and Europe.

Use and Preservation of Engraved Gems

  • Gems were primarily used as seals, often mounted in rings.
  • Impressions of intaglio designs were made in hardened wax for authentication.
  • Reclining satyr, Etruscan c.550 BC, 2.2 cm wide. Note the vase shown sideways; it is characteristic of early gems that not all elements in the design are read from the same direction of view.
  • Relief carving became more common, leading to gems meant for collection or jewelry.
  • Impressions of gems were collected in plaster or wax for easier appreciation.

Engraved gem Data Sources

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