Engraved gems

The triumph of Emperor ConstantineThe triumph of Emperor Constantine
The 'Livia Cameo'The 'Livia Cameo'

After the closure of the Money Museum in Utrecht in 2013, a new home had to be found for its collection of coins, medals, and engraved gems. The Dutch culture ministry decided that the engraved gems from the ancient world would be added to the collection of the National Museum of Antiquities. The museum has thus acquired a world-class collection of worked precious and semi-precious stones.

The three finest engraved gems on display
The three finest engraved gems will be on permanent display in the National Museum of Antiquities. You can find them in three display cases opposite the statues of Roman emperors on the first floor. In a couple of years, the collection will move to its permanent place in the museum.

Gem carving and engraving since 3000 BC

The techniques of carving, engraving, and polishing precious and semi-precious stones are many centuries old and were developed in the Mediterranean region around 3000 BC. Technical advances enabled artists in the ancient Near East and Egypt to work with harder and more beautiful types of gemstones.

By carving away surrounding layers of stone, gem-cutters created images in relief. This technique, called gem carving, was developed in the fourth century BC. Ornamental stones of this kind are called cameos. When instead a hollow image is cut into the stone, this is called gem engraving, or the Italian term intaglio is used. Sometimes the term 'engraved gem' is used more generally, for both cameos and intaglios.

« View the image in full-screen mode
Click on the image to expand it. Then, for a full-screen view, click on the icon with the four arrows (double click or scroll to zoom in)

The three finest carved gems

Emperor ConstantineConstantine’s victory over Maxentius in AD 312
The Livia CameoThird wife of the Roman emperor Augustus
The merry satyrDrinking follower of the wine god Bacchus