Roman Gold Agate Cameo with a frontal head of a grotesque
Culture: Roman, Ro-Imperial
Period: 1st-2nd Century A.D.
Material: Agate and Gold
Dimensions: H: 1.7 cm
Ex-Feuardent Collection, France.
During Roman times, grotesques were so popular, that even jewelers and carvers of precious stones used them to decorate their gems. In spite of their rarity in comparison to mythological themes or scenes from daily life, the figure of the grotesque(either on foot or as only a head) is known from gems and cameos. Their presence on such objects can probably be explained by their apotropaic qualities: a ring or a pendant with a grotesque would have served as an amulet or a good-luck charm.
This oval intaglio in bluish and white agate (the setting is modern) is intact: rendered in very high relief – practically in the round (a testament to the extraordinary technical abilities of the stone carver) – is a head of a grotesque with a melancholy expression on his face. This is in marked contrast with the often irreverent and mocking spirit of works from this genre. The old man, in a rare instance seen facing forward, is carved with a remarkable strength of presence and detailed precision. The bald, rounded crown of the head is topped by a small tuft of hair, the cheeks and the forehead are wrinkled, the eyes are deeply carved with pupils that fix the observer with their gaze and the nose is bent and aquiline.
The asymmetry of this face and the sadness in its regard express a much more human emotion than what is usually seen on grotesque figures, almost as if this were a portrait of an individual. No other examples of a cameo with a head of a grotesque depicted frontally are known.