Saturday, November 29, 2014

Yet another Poniatowski gem discovered!

I just recently purchased a gem set in a gold frame hung from chains to be used as a pendant, that is one of the Poniatowski Gems.  The dealer knew what it was, but not which one, and I have been able to find it in the Beazley Archives, where it's current whereabouts are marked as unknown. No longer, it can re-emerge into the view of the wider world.

 The gem, which measures 30mm long by 22mm wide, is carnelian agate, and has a scene of a winged man seated in a rocky setting, handing a bag to a cloaked man with a rounded cap. Behind this man is the prow of a ship with its swan head finial.  Below the ground line is a long inscription in Greek letters.  The surface of the gem is slightly worn and the carving is of very high quality, the composition has strong diagonals, and the size of the gem is large as engraved gems go. All these factors mark it as being from the Poniatowski collection, but I had no specific information as to the subject or which gem it was.

After some study and the fortuitous visit of a friend, the subject was identified as being Ulysses, the original Greek name being Odysseus, receiving the winds from Aeolus, as told in the Odyssey by Homer.  With the subject known, I was able to narrow down my search on the Beazley Archives website and found the gem, illustrated only with its impression from when it was in possession of John Tyrrell, Esq., in 1841, who had purchase it along with 1,200 other gems from the Poniatowski collection from Chrisities in London after the princes death.  Tyrrell believed the gems to be ancient, even though by this time a number of scholars doubted them, and he had casts made of the gems, and published them along with catalogs of his collection and distributed them to scholars around the world. This catalog and the plaster impressions taken from the gems, have allowed for the re-discovery of many of the Poniatowski gems.  This particular one is number T1017, the T being for Tyrrell.

Like all the gems, or at least most, in the Poniatowski Collection this gem is very high quality, beautiful, and its subject very interesting.  The Poniatowski Collection represents one of the greatest collections of gem engraving of its time ever assembled.  This gem was designed by Calandrelli, the drawing is in the Antikensammlung Berlin, and now the gem is with me.

Photo of the impression from when it belonged to John Tyrrell. (image courtesy Beazley Archives)


Anonymous said...

Nice history and storytelling.

Ulysse said...

Thanks very much for this new article Tom, I learned a lot and your gem is as usual exceptional ! Plus the fact that it represents Ulysses…
Can't wait to read new articles !

All the best,


Cameo Sleuth said...

Assuming the dealer in question is the same one who had T1017 in July of 2014 when I saw it, I am surprised he was unable to identify it for you. I wrote him that same evening with the info on that one & another he had at that time. When I had no acknowledgment from him, I alerted Claudia Wagner at the Beazley Archive. This is the main part of my message to her from July 31, 2014:

This past weekend I attended the New York Antique Jewelry & Watch show.
One of the exhibitors had prominently displayed 2 Poniatowski gems, but could not tell me what each depicted. He kindly allowed me to examine both so that I could fix them in memory with a view to being able to use the Archive to learn which ones they are.

One is T1017, Odysseus with Aeoulus.

The other is surely T742, the Children of Melanippe being suckled by a cow, discovered by a shepherd. There is a male figure to the left of the scene holding a shepherd's crook raised as if about to strike the cow at the right, with two babies beneath, suckling. It is a large piece in cornelian. I had difficulty in the show's lighting conditions in making out the signature, but what I could catch was consistent with Pyrgoteles.

Dr. Wagner wrote back that Sir John Boardman expected to be in NYC that September & she would try to arrange for him to photograph the gems at that time. Since the Archive had no image at all for T742 & one was subsequently added, this appears to have been done.