The oval-shaped carnelian stone, finely engraved with the bust of Empress Vivia Sabina in profile, with robes draped about her shoulders, her hair curling around her forehead and mounted in elaborate braids forming a turban, intaglio circa 130 AD, mounted late 18th Century in a gold ring setting, the gold of the bezel having been extended and folded into two places to protect damages to the stone. Ring size 54, US ring size 6 3/4. Weight: 5.4 grams
Depictions of Empress Vivia Sabina (b. 86 A.D) are rare and often in conjunction with her husband Emperor Hadrian or as symbols of piety and modesty. This intaglio is a particularly fine carving that celebrates her youthful beauty which is accentuated by an elaborate braided hairstyle that her mother Matidia had made famous. There are a mere 200 words alone dedicated to Sabina in ancient literary sources, it is of course her husband Emperor Hadrian's relationship with the handsome young Antonius that history has recorded and remembered. However, Sabina had been married to Emperor Hadrian since she was 14 years old and travelled with him on many of his extensive journeys. They remained childless and there was speculation about her having ensured this due to her hatred of Hadrian, and yet when she died Hadrian made great show of deifying her and erecting temples in her honour. The mystery surrounding her life makes this gem all the more enigmatic and it has certainly held a captive audience amongst some of the greatest collectors of ancient gems since the 18th century with Count Zanetti, the Duke of Marlborough, and Giorgio Sangiorgi, all having included it in their exemplary collections. The late 18th Century renowned British gem engraver Edward Burch was also inspired to carve an homage which is now housed in the Walters Art Museum.
Count Antonio Maria Zanetti (1679-1767), Venice, acquired by 1750. George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, acquired from the above, 1761; thence by continuous descent to John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough (1822-1883), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. The Marlborough Gems: Being a Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, Christie's, London, 28 June-1 July 1875, lot 455. David Bromilow (1809-1898), Bitteswell Hall, Leicestershire, acquired from the above; thence by descent to his daughter, Julia Harriet Mary Jary, Bitteswell Hall, Leicestershire, 1898. The Marlborough Gems: A Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, Purchased by the Late David Bromilow, Esq., of Bitteswell Hall, Lutterworth, the Property of Mrs. Jary, Christie's, London, 26-29 June 1899, lot 455. with Spink & Son, London, acquired from the above (according to auctioneer's book). Giorgio Sangiorgi (1886-1965), Rome, Anonymous, acquired by 1933 and brought to Switzerland. Christie's Masterpieces in Miniature part II, 16 June 2020, lot 227
A.F. Gori, Gemmae antiqae Antonii Mariae Zanetti, Venice, 1750, pp. 37-38, pl. 19. T. Worlidge, A Select Collection of Drawings from Curious Antique Gems; most of them in the possession of the Nobility and Gentry of this Kingdom; etched after the Manner of Rembrandt, vol. 2, London, 1768, pl. 107. J. Bryant, Gemmarum antiquarum delectus, ex præstantioribus desumptus, quæ in dactyliothecis ducis Marlburiensis conservantur, Choix de pierres antiques gravées du Duc de Marlborough, vol. 1, London, 1780, no. 20. R.E. Raspe and J. Tassie, A descriptive catalogue of a general collection of ancient and modern engraved gems, cameos as well as intaglios, taken from the most celebrated cabinets in Europe, vol. 2, London, 1791, p. 647, no. 11649. F. Bartolozzi and G.B. Cipriani, One Hundred and Eight Plates of Antique Gems Engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi, London, 19th century, no. 20. N. Story-Maskelyne, The Marlborough Gems: Being a Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, London, 1870, pp. xvii, p. 76, no. 455. S. Reinach, Pierres gravées des collections Marlborough et d'Orléans, Paris, 1895, p. 114, no. 20, pl. 110. G. Sangiorgi, "Nuovi acquisti della mia collezione di pietre incise," Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 48, 1933, pp. 296-298, pl. 49, no. 2. E. Zwierlein-Diehl, Die antike Gemmen des Kunsthistorischen Museums in Wien, vol. 2, Vienna, 1979, pp. 115-116, no. 1043. E. Zwierlein-Diehl, Glaspasten im Martin-von-Wagner-Museum der Universität Würzburg, Munich, 1986, pp. 270-271, no. 824, pl. 143. G. Seidmann, "An Eighteenth Century Collector as Patron: The 4th Duke of Marlborough and the London Engravers," in C.M. Brown, ed., Engraved Gems: Survivals and Revivals, Washington, 1997, pp. 264-265, fig. 5. J. Boardman, et al., The Marlborough Gems, Formerly at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, London, 2009, p. 311, no. 773. Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, La collezione Paoletti, vol. 1, tomo terzo, Rome, 2007, p. 222, no. 198, cass. 4. Beazley Archive Gem Database no. 773.