The gold ring has a shallow oval bezel with tapering shoulders and a wide hoop, now flattened. Set within the bezel is a slightly convex oval of green chalcedony engraved with a parrot in profile. The bird stands on a short groundline with closed wings and a long tail curving upwards towards the tip, the plumage well detailed. Its beak is slightly open, and the beaded, rimmed eye is set beneath a pronounced brow. 1st Century BC - 1st Century AD. Ring size approx. 22 1/2. Weight: 9.73 grams
The parrot was a rare subject in ancient Greece but by Roman times it became a popular character in decorative art due to the bird's adoption as a curious and endearing domestic pet. Aristotle mentions it in ‘Historia anamalium’ and Pliny talks of the bird becoming “especially frolicsome under the influence of wine” in his ‘Naturalis historia’. In each description the bird in question is an Indian ring-necked parakeet, and the engraving of this gem is also in line with this particular species of bright green bird with a distinctive red ring around its neck and long tail plumage. Examples of this bird can also clearly be seen in Fresco paintings such as the parrot pulling a chariot driven by a cricket found in Pompei and in a micro mosaic plaques such as that of birds drinking in a bird bath above a cat found originally found in Capua Vetere Santa Maria in the Province of Caserta, now on display in the National Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli) in Naples, Campania, Italy. An early depiction in micro mosaic found on the floor of the Pergamon Altar now housed in the Insel museum in Berlin.
For similar examples see no. 619 in Maaskant-Kleibrink, Catalogue of the Engraved Gems in the Royal Coin Cabinet and no. 533 in E. Zwierlein-Diehl, Die Antiken Gemmen des Kunsthistorischen Museum in Wien, which includes a list of others with the same subject. The present example, one of the finest to survive from antiquity, has been well known to ancient gem enthusiasts since its first publication in 1686 when it was part of the Boncompagni collection.
Francesco Boncompagni (1596-1641), Frosinone; thence by continuous descent to Antonio III Boncompagni-Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino (1808-1883), Rome. Giorgio Sangiorgi (1886-1965), Rome, acquired by 1933 and brought to Switzerland, late 1930s; thence by continuous descent Christie's New York, June 2020, 'MASTERPIECES IN MINIATURE PART II: ANCIENT ENGRAVED GEMS FORMERLY IN THE G. SANGIORGI COLLECTION' lot 223
L. Agostini, Le gemme antiche figurate, vol. 2, Rome, 1686, p. 71, pl. 149. Cast of gem in Impronte Gemmarie della Collezione Piombino Boncompagni, no. 2, preserved on the Beazley Archive Gem Database, circa early 19th century. G. Sangiorgi, "Nuovi acquisti della mia collezione di pietre incise," Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 48, 1933, pp. 288-290, pl. 48.1. G.M.A. Richter, Catalogue of Engraved Gems, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman, Rome, 1956, p. 521, no. 523. J. Boardman and C. Wagner, Masterpieces in Miniature: Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Present, London, 2018, p. 214, no. 200.