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at my disposal. The various disquisitions upon coins and coindies may at first sight appear foreign to the professed design of these pages; but as they were indisputably the productions of the same class of artists as the engravers of the gems, and are, besides this, almost the sole means we have of determining the date of the gems with which they coincide in the identity of workmanship and of treatment, it seemed unadvisable to pass them over without some slight consideration. The long series of extracts relative to the mediæval superstitions as to the powers of gems and of their “sigils,” absurd as they may seem to the ordinary reader, are yet of great interest to the student of the history of the Middle Ages; for in the writers of that period allusions to such ideas are of frequent occurrence, and are hardly to be understood without some previous acquaintance with this belief, at that time an established article of faith. The · Lapidarium' of Marbodus, besides its interest as the earliest didactic poem since the classic times, was for five centuries the received text-book on mineralogy for all the students of Mediæval Europe; and, together with the extracts from Orpheus and Pliny, completes the chain of the ancient writers on stones from Theophrastus the founder of the science.
The very extensive and interesting class of Gnostic gems has never hitherto been treated of in any English work that has come in my way, except in the brief sketch by Dr. Walsh, itself little more than an abridgment of the “ Apistopistus’ of Macarius. I have therefore bestowed a considerable amount of care upon this portion of the treatise, and have described in detail all the most interesting types that have passed under my
examination. In the course of my researches for intagli belonging to the latest period of the art, I have been fortunate enough to meet with authentic notices of many of great interest, and executed some centuries after the date usually assigned to the complete extinction of gem-engraving in Europe. Of these, full descriptions will be given in the appropriate sections.
The treasures of ancient art in Great Britain, as seen in its great national museum and in the residences of private individuals, will probably bear comparison with those of any other country in Europe in magnitude and interest, and perhaps in no class of antiquities is it richer than in antique gems. The collection in the British Museum, though scarcely on a par, numerically speaking, with its other monuments of ancient art—its statues, vases, bronzes, and coins—is nevertheless of great value and importance, containing as it does specimens of the finest and rarest types of gem-sculptures, as I shall presently take occasion to show in a chapter specially devoted to this collection; but by far the greatest number of these miniature monuments of art are to be found in the cabinets of our noble and wealthy amateurs. Besides the large and valuable collections of the Dukes of Marlborough and Devonshire, Lord Londesborough, Messrs. Pulsky, Rhodes, Uzielli, &c., there exist numerous smaller collections, varying in number from one hundred to two hundred gems, scattered over the length and breadth of the land, in which are to be found, buried as it were from the world of connoisseurs, many of the choicest relics of the glyptic art. Indeed there are few Englishmen of refined and cultivated taste, versed at the same time in the literature of Greece and Rome, who have resided or travelled in classic lands, who have not brought home with them some of these miniature memorials of the genius and skill of the ancient artists of those countries. Nor can we be surprised when we consider that not only is a refined and cultivated taste required for a just appreciation of these interesting relics, but a familiar acquaintance with the myths and legends, historic events, manners and customs of Greece
and Rome; and when these qualifications are combined in any one, then will he be able fully to admire the wonderful force and beauty with which the ancient gem-engraver has contrived to represent, upon the most limited area, those scenes and actions with which he is so familiar, and which he is able to recognise at a glance. Such a one, too, is prepared to survey with admiration and interest the portraits of those distinguished men whose words and deeds history has handed down to us, and whose features have been reproduced and perpetuated on the imperishable gem. Various other reasons may be assigned for the great number of fine antique gems which have found their way into the collections of this country. The frequent revolutions and political commotions which have disturbed the continent of Europe have rendered England the asylum of many deposed princes, and of innumerable political refugees. Some of these have brought with them cabinets of gems, and others a few rings, which from their portability would naturally be laid hold of at the moment of their flight in preference to more cumbersome valuables; and these, in their hour of necessity, the owners being compelled to part with, have been readily secured by the amateurs of this country. Hence it has been remarked by foreigners that there is no capital in Europe in which a collection of gems can be formed in so short a time as in London.
It is not my design in this work to describe or even to briefly notice the gems to be found in the principal collections of Europe, as such an undertaking could not be brought within the compass of a single volume. I have restricted myself, as I may here explain, in the selection of the various types and characteristics of gem-sculpture, principally, though by no means exclusively, to the Herz and the MertensSchaafhausen Collections—the former as being the best known in this country, and the latter as the one to which I have had constant access through the kindness of the present possessor, and which, from its vast extent of nearly two thousand stones, comprises examples of every period of style and art. I have nevertheless deemed it advisable to insert a brief sketch of the more remarkable gems in our great national collection, both because there is no published account of them, and that they are probably less known to the public than any other class of its ancient treasures. I shall also devote a few pages to the consideration of the finest works of the Devonshire Collection, as there exists no catalogue raisonné of this celebrated cabinet. The Marlborough Collection has been more fortunate in this respect, the choicest of its contents having been described and figured in two of the most magnificent volumes ever published, the pencil of Cipriani and the graver of Bartolozzi having been engaged for its production. Mr. Pulsky's fine collection may now also be claimed as one of our English treasures in this department, as he has for so many years resided and collected amongst us. It has afforded me several fine examples of important classes of both camei and intagli. The very extensive and valuable cabinet of gems belonging to Mr. Uzielli has been formed chiefly by the selection of the choicest stones from the Herz Collection, and further augmented by the addition of many precious camei, lately acquired in Italy.
These descriptions, observations, and extracts will be found arranged according to a long-considered system of my own, under certain general heads, thus divided : Section I. Materials: gems themselves.
II. Art: the different styles.