Mosaic beads such as this were immensely popular in Roman Egypt. From excavated finds, specimens have been found across Africa, Europe and the Near East, attesting to their popularity. It has been suggested that the faces depicted portray the mythological creatures known as the Gorgons, along with their sister Medusa. Within Greek Mythology, the Gorgons were but one of various triumvirates, a group of three, who had mythical powers. They were known as ferocious monsters, who had writhing snake hair, large fangs and scaly skin. Medusa, unlike her two sisters Stheno and Euryale, was mortal. It was her mortality that allowed Perseus, the Greek hero, to slaughter her. Despite their often monstrous appearance, it was believed that images of the Gorgons had apotropaic powers and could ward off evil and bad luck. Medusa was not, however, always depicted as entirely monstrous; as is the case with this item, her snake-like hair and zoomorphic features are sometimes accompanied by a serene and pleasant face, alluding to the version of the myth in which her monstrous form was the result of having been cursed out of spite due to her beauty. The faces on such beads can vary slightly, with both the monstrous Stheno and Euryale depicted and the beauteous Medusa.
Romano-Egyptian Glass Bead with Faces
A Romano-Egyptian spherical bead made from polychromatic glass. The bead features a red matrix, interspersed with a dark blue band. Within this band are four faces, their delicate faces made from white glass and facial features defined in black. Each face is surrounded by a white roundel. The bead is pierced vertically for suspension. It is believed that the faces depict the mythological Gorgon; the undulating black lines of her hair representing the unruly snakes that framed her face.
Provenance: Acquired 1969-1999. London collection of the late S.M., thence by descent.
Condition: Very fine. Some loss of colour to the blue band. Beads of this high quality are exceptionally rare.
|Dimensions||W 1.3 x H 1.3 cm|
North Africa, Southern Europe
Reference: For Similar: Bonhams Auction House, London, Antiquities, 8th December 2022, lot 67