Engraved Scarab with Youth Leaning on a Staff

Object Details

Title:

Engraved Scarab with Youth Leaning on a Staff

Artist/Maker:

Attributed to Epimenes (Greek, active about 500 B.C.)

Culture:

Greek

Place:

Cyclades, Greece (Place created)

Date:

about 500 B.C.

Medium:

Carnelian

Object Number:

81.AN.76.22

Dimensions:

1.6 × 1 × 0.8 cm (5/8 × 3/8 × 5/16 in.)

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A nude youth leans over to adjust the heel strap of his sandal, raising his right foot and supporting himself on a staff held in his left hand. His upper body is shown in three-quarter view, and his hair is striated, with a band of curls circling the brow and neckline. The precise identification of this figure is unclear: the youth may represent some mythological figure for whom sandals are meaningful, such as Theseus or Jason, or he may be a generic youth performing in an everyday action. The pose of this figure, standing but leaning over while engaged in some activity, was a favorite for carved gems in the late 500s B.C., in part because it fills the oval space well. However, this carver's skill in depicting a three-quarter view of the youth and in rendering the musculature in detail set this gem apart. Another four gems have been attributed to the same engraver, Epimenes (including 85.AN.370.6), all of which show nude youths engaged in similar activities with the same careful depiction of the body. Only one of these gems is signed: the letter forms of the signature suggest that the artist was from one of the Cycladic Islands, where there was a long tradition of gem engraving.

Greek gem carving changed dramatically in form, materials, and technique in the-mid 500s B.C. One of these changes was the introduction of the scarab, with its back carved like a beetle and its flat surface an intaglio. They were usually pierced and worn either as a pendant or attached to a metal hoop and worn as a ring, with the beetle side facing out and the intaglio surface resting against the finger. When serving as a seal, the ring was removed, the scarab swiveled, and the intaglio design was pressed into soft clay or wax to identify and secure property.

The scarab form originally derived from Egypt, where it had been used for seals and amulets for centuries. Certain features of Greek scarabs, however, such as the form of the beetle and the hatching around the intaglio motif, show the influence of Phoenician models, which the Greeks probably saw on Cyprus.

Provenance
by 1973 -

Vincenzo Pappalardo, Sicilian (Lausanne, Switzerland)

- 1981

Bank Leu, A.G. (Zurich, Switzerland), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1981.

Exhibitions
Athletes in Antiquity: Works from the Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum (February 1 to April 15, 2002)
  • Utah Museum of Fine Arts (Salt Lake City), February 1 to April 15, 2002
Carvers and Collectors: The Lasting Allure of Ancient Gems (March 19 to September 7, 2009)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa (Malibu), March 19 to September 7, 2009
Bibliography

Boardman, John. Intaglios and Rings: Greek, Etruscan and Eastern: From a Private Collection (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), pp. 86-87, no. 22.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 1st ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986), p. 61.

Sines, George. "Precision in Engraving of Etruscan and Archaic Greek Gems," Archeomaterials 6, 1 (1992), pp. 53-68, p. 55; figs 1, 13.

Grossman, Janet Burnett. Athletes in Antiquity: Works from the Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, exh. cat. (Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Museum of Fine Arts, 2002), p. 10, no. 5.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection (Los Angeles: 2002), p. 85.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection. Rev. ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010), p. 82.