This genuine Ancient Roman carnelian intaglio,
depicting either the Emperor Antoninus Pius or
Marcus Aurelius, has been set in a modern 18
karat gold ring.
The art of glyptics, or carving on colored
precious stones, is probably one of the oldest
known to humanity. Intaglios, gems with an
incised design, were made as early as the fourth
and third millennia BC in Mesopotamia and
Aegean Islands. They display a virtuosity of
execution that suggests an old and stable
tradition rooted in the earliest centuries. The
tools required for carving gems were simple: a
wheel with a belt-drive and a set of drills.
Abrasives were necessary since the minerals
used were too hard for a metal edge. A special
difficulty of engraving intaglios, aside from their
miniature size, was that the master had to work
with a mirror-image in mind.
Both Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius were
favorites of the emperor Hadrian. In A.D.138
Hadrian asked Pius to adopt Marcus, thus setting
in motion an easy succession to the throne. The
period of rule from A.D.117-180 is known as a
Golden Age of prosperity and peace, the like of
which has rarely been seen in human history.
This lovely intaglio depicts a distinguished man
wearing curled beard and a laurel wreath. In the
imperial age intaglio rings were often given by
the emperor to his favorites at court. Perhaps
this intaglio adorned the hand of a nobleman or
intimate of the emperor, worn proudly to
proclaim allegiance; just as it can be worn
proudly today as an object of beauty.