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 1, p.43
Intaglio depicting a griffin or monster, oval sardonyx, set in gold ring; Italy, about 30 BC-50 CE
Width: 10 mm approximate, Height: 8 mm approximate
Engraved gemstones of all dates were widely collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many were brought back from Italy by British Grand Tourists, and important collections were formed.
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, 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'.
Historical significance: For comparison see 'Classical Gems. Ancient and Modern Intaglios and Cameos in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge', Martin Henig, 1994, p.123, no.233
Horizontal oval intaglio. Translucent reddish brown, translucent white, transparent pale brown banded agate, variety 'sardonyx'. Depicts a dog-like quadruped beast or monster, with a long tongue, ears or horns, in profile to right. Set in a gold ring.
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. This early Roman intaglio represents a dog-like monster.