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Engraved Scaraboid with Zeus Enthroned
about 470 B.C.
Ring: silver; gem: blue chalcedony
1.7 × 1.4 × 0.8 cm (11/16 × 9/16 × 5/16 in.)
This finely-carved scaraboid depicts Zeus, seated in three-quarter profile on a four-legged chair. He is semi-nude, with a mantle draped over his lap and legs, and a taenia – or ribbon – tied around his short hair. He holds a long, eagle-tipped scepter in his right hand, and a thunderbolt at his left side. In front, a small inscription reads: ΧΑΡΟΝ (‘CHARON’).
A scaraboid is a simplified scarab, with a plain curved back and an intaglio design decorating the flat underside. The form gradually replaced the scarab in Greece in the 400s B.C. Like scarabs, they were typically pierced and worn either as a ring or pendant. When attached to a metal hoop and worn as a ring, the curved side faced out and the intaglio surface rested against the finger. When needed as a seal, the ring was removed, the gem swiveled, and the intaglio design was pressed into soft clay or wax to identify and secure property.
Gems dating from between the Late Archaic and Classical periods are rare, as are seated representations of Zeus. The transitional style of this gem is evident in the contrast between the deft modelling of the god’s torso and the successful foreshortening of his body, and the more linear treatment of his face. This is paralleled by a group of Late or post-Archaic gems attributed to the Group of the Beazley Europa, which are also carved in low relief. The inscription, XAPON (‘CHARON’), is probably the name of the owner rather than the artist. The substitution of ‘omicron’ for ‘omega’ suggests the engraver may have originated from the Cyclades.
Damon Mezzacappa (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.
The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 1st ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986), p. 61.
Tiverios, Michalis, et al. "Zeus." In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae VIII (1997), pp. 310-374, p. 358, no. 361; pl. 234.
Bodel, John, and Stephen Tracy. Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the USA: A Checklist (New York: American Academy in Rome, 1997), p. 12.
Boardman, John. Greek Gems and Finger Rings: Early Bronze to Late Classical. New expanded edition. (New York and London: Thames and Hudson, 2001), 1037.