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, pp.295-6.
Intaglio depicting either Mercury or a shepherd with a goat, oval carnelian, set in gold ring; Italy, ca 200-100 BC
Height: 11 mm approximate, Width: 9 mm approximate
Engraved gemstones of all dates were widely collected in Italy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many were brought back 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'.
Vertical oval intaglio. Brownish-red translucent carnelian. Depicts a naked male figure facing left. He wears a brimmed hat. In his right hand he holds a set of reed pipes, in his left an unidentifiable staff-like object. A goat rears up in front of him. Set in a gold ring.
The art of engraving gemstones has been admired since the early days of the Roman empire. It was revived in Europe during the Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cameos and intaglios were prized and collected, sometimes as symbols of power and mounted in jewelled settings, sometimes as small objects for private devotion or enjoyment. This intaglio may simply portray a shepherd, his flock represented by a single goat. On the other hand the subject could be the god Mercury who, among his many other manifestations, was known as the protector of shepherds and flocks. In this guise Mercury's attribute is the ram, and he is frequently shown wearing the 'petasus', the broad-brimmed hat of felt or straw associated with farmers and travellers, and sometimes carrying the 'syrinx' - the reed pipes of Pan.