The term intaglio refers to a small image that has been engraved into a gemstone and usually set in a piece of jewellery, most commonly a ring. Such artistic form has its origin in Sumer in the 4th millennium BC, with the appearance of cylinder and stamp seals, whereby decorations and patterns were engraved into soft stones. During the Hellenistic period and the early Roman Empire, the art of intaglio reached its apogee, with there being a steady decline in craftsmanship in the late Imperial Rome, until a revival of interest with the Byzantine and during the Renaissance.
In both Greek and Roman mythology, the eagle, held in Jupiter’s hand in this intaglio, served as his own personal messenger, and it is said to have carried the young Ganymede, whom Jupiter was besotted with, to Mount Olympus, where he served as the gods’ cupbearer. Ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder also describes the eagle as one of the signa militaria, the military symbols employed by the Romans. As a symbol of Jupiter’s authority, an eagle would be set free during the consecration of an emperor. By flying up into the air, it was believed that the eagle would carry the soul of the deified emperor to the heavens, hence securing him a position amongst the gods.
To discover more about Intaglios, please visit our relevant blog post: Intaglios: Miniature Masterpieces.