Hellenistic gems: standing figures

The long oval shape for a ringstone was a particular favourite of the Hellenistic period. The most successful way to fill the field was with a standing figure, often leaning on a column or tree-trunk and, through various attributes, characterised as a heroic or divine. Deities are by far the most numerous choice, among them Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo and Dionysos being especially popular.

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Oxford 376 (1892.1515) (Plantzos 276) [GGFR 1002] Cornelian 35x22x4mm, convex face, flat back.

A typical example is a woman leaning on a column. Her head is shown in profile, her body in three-quarter view turned the other way, one leg crossing the other. She wears a high-girt sleeveless chiton and she holds her himation, swathed round her legs, away from her body. Her crown (stephane) and the staff with flowing ribbons mark her as a goddess, Aphrodite.

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Oxford 336 (Fortnum FR.130) (Plantzos 161) Garnet 17x10.5mm, convex face, set in solid gold ring.

A garnet in Oxford shows Apollo facing to one side with his body in three-quarter view. He holds a kithara in one hand, in the other a plectrum. His dress is the high-girt chiton with long sleeves, with a long cloak draped loosely behind him: the usual dress for a kithara-player. His hair is rolled up and tied at the back. Several variations of the type, Apollo Kitharoidos, are known, and some may well copy sculptural types of the day.

2 Gem images

Oxford 303 (1892.1573) (Plantzos 309) Glass (violet) 34x22mm, convex face, set in ring.

Not all versions of the standing figures are executed with the same skill and attention to detail. The goddess in the high-girt peplos depicted on a glass gem roughly follows the rules observed on the stones of better quality, but in a very linear, abstract style. In one hand she holds a phiale, in the other perhaps a torch. The poor quality of the engraving and the use of glass instead of precious stone indicate a piece made for the less wealthy.