Ring with Venus and Eros
Period: 1st century A.D.
Material: Gold and agate
Dimensions: 2.6 x 2.2 cm
With Phoenix Ancient Art, Geneva, late 1980s; ex-private collection, London; Christie’s, New York, December 7, 2011, Lot 390.
Complete and in excellent condition; traces of dents, minor superfi cial wear. Chip on the agate, near the
feet of Eros.
This classical-shaped ring features a circular and regular band surmounted by an elliptical cabochon cut from a black agate with horizontal white striations.
The scene that adorns the gem is finely carved in the hollow. It represents two of the most famous mythological fi gures in the early Roman Imperial period: Venus (Aphrodite to the Greeks), the goddess of love, and her young companion, the little Eros, who can be identifi ed by his wings.
Venus is seen in three-quarter view from behind. The weight of her body is supported by her right leg, while only the tip of her left foot touches the ground. Except for a cloak wrapped around her left arm and falling to her feet, Venus is nude. The proportions are harmonious and the body has a sinuous grace. Her face is shown in profile; she has her hair gathered in a bun behind her nape.
The goddess is depicted here as Venus Victrix (Victorious), since she carries the weapons of a hoplite. In her left hand, she holds a spear adorned with a ribbon; in her right hand stretching forward, she holds a sword provided with a belt to be hung over the shoulder. The equipment is completed by a bronze helmet held out by Eros. The child-god, entirely naked, stands in front of Venus, arching backward.
The scene depicted on this ring was very famous in the Roman world in the late Republican and early Imperial period. According to the historian Cassius Dio* (155-235 A.D.), the seal of Julius Caesar (and, after him, Augustus) was decorated with Venus Victrix. This image therefore became a symbol of his supporters and later of Imperial power. The iconography of Venus (she appears on gems, as is the case here, but also on many coins, from the time of Caesar to the emperors of the 2nd century A.D.) seems to have been established at the time of Augustus and to have been inspired, according to some archeologists, by a model created in the Hellenistic period.
The variant represented here, with Eros accompanying the goddess of love, was attested as of the time of Augustus and, although it is generally rarer than the versions depicting Venus alone, it was very popular, especially in glyptics.
*Cassius Dio text: Cassius Dio, Roman History, XLIII, 43.3: In general, he (Julius Caesar) was absolutely devoted to Venus and he was anxious to persuade everybody that he had received from her a kind of bloom of youth. Accordingly, he used also to wear a carven image of her in full armor on his ring and he made her name his watchword in almost all the greatest dangers.
FURTWÄNGLER A., Die antiken Gemmen, Amsterdam-Osnabrück, 1965. Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Vol. VIII, Zurich-Munich, 1997, s.v. Venus, pp. 211-212, nos. 196-207.
SENA CHIESA G., Gemme del Museo Nazionale di Aquileia, Padua, 1966, pp. 158 ff., nos. 248-272.
ZWIERLEIN-DIEHL E., Die antiken Gemmen des Kunsthistorischen Museums in Wien, Munich, 1979, pp. 198 ff., nos. 1460-1481.