Hellenistic gems: signatures

Several gem-engravers of the Hellenistic period have signed their work. All are of high quality and many, as the Berenike II by Nikandros (see Other Royal Portraits), portray rulers of the Hellenistic courts. Literary sources suggest that some gem engravers profited from royal patronage. The most famous of these, only known to us from literature, was Pyrgoteles, the engraver favoured by Alexander the Great. It seems that the work of selected craftsmen was specially commissioned and valued highly, in particular at the beginning of the Hellenistic period. Signatures become much rarer as the period progresses, probably a symptom of changes in patronage and perhaps even of the social standing of the artist. More signatures appear again at the end of the period when the interest shown by Roman patrons seems to have opened new possibilities for Greek engravers.

Gem image

Athens, Numismatic Museum (Plantzos 71) (Zazoff 54.2) Cornelian fragment.

The portrait of the Seleucid king Antiochos III on a cornelian ring-stone is one of two known pieces signed by Apollonios.

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