Thursday, May 20, 2021

Forgeries of ancient engraved gems

The J. Paul Getty Museum has some spectacular ancient engraved gems in their collections and I have featured a number of them in my posts.  But, during the pandemic one of their curators, Kenneth Lapatin, researched one gem in their collection with a portrait of Marc Antony engraved upon it, and discovered, unfortunately, it was not ancient at all but a 19th century forgery produced by Giovanni Calandrelli for Prince Stanislas Poniatowski, nephew and heir to the King of Poland and Lithuania, and one of the richest men in Europe.

Alerted by a friend, the late Gertrud Platz from the Berlin Antikensammlung, who had  just published a study of Giovanni Calandrelli, Lapatin learned she had recently examined a plaster impression that was made of one of Calandrelli's forgeries featuring a portrait of Marc Antony.  Platz suspected the Getty gem was the same work.  So Lapatin sent an impression of the Getty gem to her and they were found to be virtually identical.

"There are three smoking guns," explains Lapatin. "There is the plaster impression in Berlin, and another sent to St. Petersburg, Russia, that show that the gem had been in the Poniatowski collection, which was full of forgeries. That doesn’t prove anything, because Poniatowski’s collection also contained some genuine antiquities, but puts the gem in very bad company. Then, there’s Calandrelli’s notebook, which says he made a Mark Antony with the signature of Gnaios. And then, the third is when we put our gem next to ones that we know are genuine ancient engravings by Gnaios, we can see stylistic discrepancies, especially in the way the skin and hair is rendered."

Mistakes such as this are certainly understandable since it is widely known Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, and the nephew of the Emperor Augustus, as well as other ancient aristocrats, all collected gems and donated their collections to the gods in temples.  This particular gem came to be widely known in 1968 when John Boardman (now Sir John), one of the foremost authorities on ancient gems, published and praised this gem very highly as one of the masterpieces of late Roman Republican, early Augustan gem carving. It is just unfortunate that some wealthy 19th century collectors sought to boost their prestige by clandestinely hiring talented gem engravers to simulate ancient works.

Read more about it:  

Amethyst gem with engraved portrait of Marc Antony originally thought to be late Roman Republican to early Augustan work.  Actually, it is a forgery produced by 19th century gem carver, Giovanni Calandrelli.  It remains in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum due to its quality but has been moved from the Getty Villa to the Getty Center where it is now displayed with the works of other 19th century engravers.


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