List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1869, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O. p. 127.
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 2, p.239.
Intaglio depicting a man driving a chariot drawn by two horses, oval carnelian, set in gold ring; Italy, either ca.100 BC - 100 CE, or 1785-1820
Width: 19 mm approximate, Height: 12 mm approximate
This gem was part of the collection of the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868), who bequeathed his important collection to the South Kensington Museum in 1869. Although the gemstone collection is not as comprehensive as that found at the Natural History Museum in London, it is of particular historic interest as its formation pre-dates the development of many synthetic stones and artificial enhancements. All the stones were mounted as rings before they came to the Museum. Some are held in the Sculpture Section, other more elaborately mounted ones in the Metalwork Section.
As well as being a clergyman, collector and dillettante, the Reverend Townshend wrote poetry. He met Robert Southey in 1815 and through him the Wordsworths, the Coleridges and John Clare. He was a friend of Charles Dickens and dedicatee of his novel 'Great Expectations'.
Attribution note: The surfaces on either side of the intaglio are mottled with a white discolouration, cut through with the intaglio design. The mottling is likely to be the result of artificial treatment using an alkali, popular in ancient Italy. In this case it would appear that a carnelian cabochon has been treated with the alkali, which would turn the gem entirely white, polished to produce a mottled surface, and then engraved with the chariot and horses design. (Joanna Whalley 26/05/2009).
The art of engraving gemstones can be traced back to ancient Greece in the 8th century BC and earlier. Techniques passed down to the Egyptians and then to the Romans. There were major revivals of interest in engraved gems in Europe during the Byantine era, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. At each stage cameos and intaglios, these skillful carvings on a minute scale, were much prized and collected, sometimes as symbols of power mounted in jewelled settings, sometimes as small objects for private devotion or enjoyment. Occasionally, as in this case, later engravers were so skilled at reproducing the techniques and styles of the ancient artists that it can be difficult to decide which era a gem comes from. The horse-drawn chariot or 'biga', driven by a variety of charioteers such as Aurora, Eros and Nike, representing the dawn, love, and victory respectively, was a common subject for Greek and Roman gems.