A Greek Gold Finger Ring, Hellenistic Period, Circa 2nd Century B.C. Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000. This work is offered in the Ancient Jewelry: Wearable Art online sale 1-10 December
Max Bernheimer, International Specialist Head: One of my favorite pieces in the sale is lot 17, the Greek gold finger ring. While it is obviously an attractive object due to the shape and the rich tones of the high karat gold, for me it is the engraved portrait that captivates. While the shape tells us that this is the product of a Greek goldsmith, the portrait engraved on it seems likely to depict a Roman.
It should be remembered that the Romans conquered the Greek world piece by piece, first the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily, followed by the Greek mainland and the east. By the end of the 2nd century B.C. most of the Greek-speaking world was under Roman domination.
Greek art was much admired by the conquerors, and Greek artists quite readily continued creating masterful works of art for Roman patrons. Earlier portraits by Greek artists are almost exclusively depicting rulers, who, for propagandistic reasons, preferred to be depicted in idealized fashion, their images more godlike than factual.
Contrary to this trend, here we see the Roman as he really was, since the portrait displays his unique physiognomic traits. The workmanship is exquisite, and while, at least so far, the identity of the individual depicted has not been ascertained, the ring is a wonderful blend of Greek and Roman, from the period when the two cultures clashed and merged.
A Pair of Greco Bactrian Gold, Garnet and Glass Earrings, Circa 1st Century A.D. Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000. This work is offered in the Ancient Jewelry: Wearable Art online sale 1-10 December
Hannah Fox Solomon, Associate Specialist: I love these earrings for their beauty and also find them incredible-- both in their craftsmanship and their current state of preservation. Formed of gold and inlaid with garnet and adorned with glass beads, these earrings show how skilled ancient goldsmith were and their technical abilities to work with a material as soft as gold and to make such tiny details. The granulation on the main floral motif is to die for and hard to believe it was done by hand, let alone in the 1st century A.D., over 2000 years ago.
These earrings are also pretty wild in that they show the fusing of 2 cultures, both the east and west. Bactria is a region in modern Afghanistan famed in antiquity as the source of bright blue lapis lazuli, which reached the Mediterranean world through trade routes. The wealth of natural resources in the region was one reason why it was conquered by many foreign rulers throughout history, including Alexander the Great, in the late 4th century B.C.
The western influence can be seen in the Greek iconography on these earrings through the Cupid riding ketoi, or sea monsters.
The eastern influence is visible in the earrings’ goldwork, including the granulation, layered floral motif and the inset garnets, as well as the hanging amphora pendants.
A Roman Gold Snake Ring, Circa 1st Century B.C. – 1st Century A.D. Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000. This work is offered in the Ancient Jewelry: Wearable Art online sale 1-10 December
Alexandra Olsman, Junior Specialist: I love this Roman Gold Snake Ring as a vehicle to understand the degree to which contemporary jewellery is influenced by ancient styles. This ring looks like it could have been designed by Cartier or David Yurman, but in reality it dates to the 1st century B.C. to the 1st century A.D.
Bracelets, armlets and rings in the form of serpents were particularly popular in Roman Egypt during this time, and one can’t help but draw the connection to Cleopatra VII, who of course famously met her end via a self-induced bite from a poisonous asp.
A Roman Chrome Chalcedony Ringstone with Lupa Romana. Circa 1st Century B.C. Estimate: $2,000 – $3,000. This work is offered in the Ancient Jewelry: Wearable Art online sale 1-10 December
One of the most interesting things about working with ancient jewelry is the knowledge the object you’re holding has been owned by different people for the past 2000-plus years. For the majority of objects we know only the more recent provenance history, but this ring stone provides a clue to its original owner.
The Greek letters ‘theta and eta’ are engraved, which usually indicates the owner’s initials. I enjoy wondering who this person might have been, what sort of occasions they wore this ring to etc. I love the idea of wearing something that carries someone else’s stories.
Of course, the mythological subject matter of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus is an interesting draw to this ring, and makes me think that its original owner was a great lover of Rome and its history.
Browse and bid on these and other works in our online auction, Ancient Jewelry: Wearable Art, 1 December to 10 December 2015.