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. 128.
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 2, pp.289-90.
Intaglio depicting Hebe or Methe standing holding a drinking bowl, oval layered agate, variety 'nicolo', set in gold ring; Italy, 200-100 BC
Height: 14 mm approximate, Width: 12 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'.
Historical significance: This gem compares closely to other engraved gems representing Methe. For analogies see Hermitage, St Petersburg inventory numbers 2275 (Julia Kagan, Antique Intaglios in the Hermitage Collection, 1976, p.71, no.104), 2268, 3619, 4400, 4555; also Museo Archeologico, Florence, Reinach, pl.19.
Vertical oval intaglio. Pale bluish top layer over black chalcedony. Depicting a full-length figure of Hebe or Methe naked except for a wreath, and a cloak hanging down her back from her shoulders, facing left and holding a drinking bowl up towards her face. Set in a gold ring.
Ring ca. 1750-1800
Attribution note: Pale bluish layer over black layer of translucent chalcedony
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 probably represents a popular subject, the Greek mythological character Methe, who personifies intoxication. She is the companion of Dionysos, and is often shown as she is here, part-naked and about to drink from a drinking bowl.