List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1874, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O. p. 20.
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 1, p. 79.
Fragment of cameo carving depicting a winged female figure, irregular agate; Italy, 200-300 CE
Height: 79 mm approx., Width: 63 mm approx.
Bought from John Webb (1799-1880). Webb was a London dealer and collector who had a long and mutually fruitful relationship with the Museum. He advised on valuations and acted as agent on behalf of the Museum. From the 1850s until the late 1870s he sold numbers of highly important objects to the Museum, many of which are now among the 'star' objects of the collections. In 1867 he lent the Museum a large number of objects, including the present one (Loan no. 104), from his stock, charging a rental of 5% of their estimated value. Most of these objects had been purchased by the Museum by 1873, and 11 were gem-engravings acquired for what is now the Sculpture collection. On his death Webb left money to the Museum in the form of a trust fund to be used for the purchase of objects.
Historical significance: Part of a vase. The flying figure probably represents Nike as part of a scene with the apotheosis of an emperor.
Irregularly-shaped, curved cameo fragment. Agate. Part of a vessel with section of rim above the carving. Depicting part of a winged female figure in profile to left. The figure is draped and her right arm is raised above her head. The inside surface of the curved fragment is decorated with incised laurel leaves.
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. This fragment, probably the remains of a vase, part of the rim of which survives, is Roman and dates from the third century. The flying figure almost certainly Nike, the Greek winged goddess of Victory, and when the vase was complete the whole scene probably portrayed the apotheosis of an emperor. After death Roman emperors were often raised to the status of a god, and their deification commemorated in various forms.