Gems

Tazza farnese
Farnese Cup
tazza-farnese

Farnese Cup

The Farnese Cup is the largest existing cameo in the world and was probably designed for ritual libations rather than for banquets. It is a cameo cup made of sardonyx agate created with the techniques of intaglio and engraving, which dates to the first half of the 2nd century BC. The inner bottom of the cup portrays, in the lower part, a Sphinx, a clear reference to Egypt. Probably the allegorical scene represented on the Farnese Cup refers to the floods of the Nile, identifiable with the female figure dressed in Isiac robes, to the fertilizing force of the river, recognizable in the imposing bearded figure on the left, and to the benefits that Egypt receives from the Nile, represented by the Sphinx. Instead, according to a second interpretation, the seven figures present on the Farnese Cup might identify the main Egyptian deities. A further interpretation sees in the portrayed characters the representation of historical figures related to a particular event, of which the cup would retain the memory.

Gemma farnese
Heracles – Hercules

Gemma farnese

Heracles – Hercules

On the cameo made of onyx agate is the head of Hercules – Heracles (the demigod, Zeus and Alcmene’s son). The cameo was engraved in Alexandrian area, probably in the Augustan age, by Gnaios.
The thick curly hair is covered, in the back, by the skin of the Nemean lion (leontè) defeated by the hero. The theme of Hercules, a man that goes beyond the human limits through his twelve labours and his adventures till he becomes a hero and is admitted to the gods’ abode, found great favour with the Roman patricians and later also with the Emperors. The hero’s face reveals a classical style characteristic of the Augustan age.

The gem was part of the collection of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who had his name engraved on it in the form LAV.R.MED. Then the gem came to the Farnese family and, by inheritance, to Charles III of Bourbon, who had the whole collection of valuables transported to Naples in 1736.

Cameo farnese
Artemis
Cameo farnese

Artemis

On the amethyst gem is engraved the goddess Artemis (Apollo’s sister, the Goddess of the Hunt, identified as Diana), standing and showing her left profile, dressed as a huntress, with bare arms and legs, Greek sandals and a quiver on her back, in the act of leaning on a small column placed before her. She is holding two torches in her hands, the flames of which are licking a rock in the lower left, while another rock is placed behind the goddess.

On the column vertically arranged is engraved a Greek inscription bearing the name Apolloniou in the genitive case.

The gem, which had belonged to the Orsini family in 16th century, came to the Farnese family in the following century and, by inheritance, to Charles III of Bourbon, who had the whole collection of valuables transported to Naples in 1736. After his temporary transfer to Sicily in 1806 for the Neapolitan risings and his return to Naples in 1817, Ferdinand brought back the collection to the Museum.

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Gemma farnese
Zeus and the Giants
Gemma farnese

Zeus and the Giants

The sardonyx agate gem portrays Zeus, with the scepter in his left hand and the thunderbolt in his right one, in the act of driving a chariot and thunderstriking two Giants with snakes for legs, prostrate on the ground, one of whom is brandishing a torch (?).

The Baroque-style cameo, where glimpses of Hellenistic political propaganda can be probably recognized, was perhaps inspired by some statuary group or a relief.

The gem, which had belonged to the Orsini family in 16th century, came to the Farnese family in the following century and, by inheritance, to Charles III of Bourbon, who had the whole collection of valuables transported to Naples in 1736. After his temporary transfer to Sicily in 1806 for the Neapolitan risings and his return to Naples in 1817, Ferdinand brought back the collection to the Museum.

Gemma farnese
Contest between Athena and Poseidon
Gemma farnese

Contest between Athena and Poseidon

The initials on the exergue reminds that the gem belonged to the collection of Lorenzo de’ Medici in the 15th century. Later it came to the Farnese family and, by inheritance, to Charles III of Bourbon, who had the whole collection of valuables transported to Naples in 1736. After his temporary transfer to Sicily in 1806 for the Neapolitan risings and his return to Naples in 1817, Ferdinand brought back the collection to the Museum.

The sardonyx agate cameo portrays the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the conquest of Attica at the time of the mythical king Cecrops. In fact, according to the myth, king Cecrops swore that the goddess had been the first to plant an olive tree in the land of Athens. To complete the scene, there are a dolphin raising its tail behind Poseidon and a snake symbolizing Cecrops or Erichthonius at the foot of the tree. Shells, coral branches and flowers, as well as the Greek initials of the intaglio worker, Pyrgoteles, are engraved below the baseline.

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