Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Shepherds and Goats Signet Ring, 200-100 BC

Intaglio Ring
Italy, 200-100 B.C.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A vertically-positioned oval intaglio of brown-hued carnelian is the centerpiece of this ancient ring which nicely demonstrates the mastery of early Roman gem carving.

It’s thought that this ring was meant to represent a shepherd. The conclusion makes sense since it depicts a young man with a goat which, I’m guessing, represents his flock. It’s hard to carve a whole flock of goats onto a ring. Don’t let the fact that the young man is nude bother you.

Others suggest that since the fellow has no clothes on, he could be the god Mercury. I don’t know if I’d want to be a shepherd with no pants. So, Mercury is a good guess, too, especially since Mercury’s attribute is often a ram and he does tend to be shown wearing the sort of broad-brimmed hat favored by farmers and travelers.

Either way, the goat’s not too happy. Maybe he doesn’t like the pan flute. Goats probably don’t care for pipe music.

The ring was made in Italy circa 200-100 BC. Of course, it ended up in the collection of the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868), who preferred collecting jewelry to being a clergyman. I agree with him wholeheartedly.

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