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In the classical world, vessels made in semiprecious stone were much sought after as symbols of wealth and sophistication. They were intended as diplomatic gifts or treasured as heirlooms, and many of them found their way into royal tombs or imperial collections, both during antiquity and later. Despite the fragmentary nature, this is a masterly example of the artisan’s skill. The deep colours, attractive polished surface and beautiful texture is highly impressive.

The rarity of agate and the difficulty in producing vessels from it encouraged imitations in glass and pottery; the most striking is provided by mosaic cast glass vessels that copied the banding of the agate in canes of translucent deep amber and opaque white glass.

Many stones were believed to have talismanic and therapeutic properties in the ancient world. Agate was believed to give victory and strength to its owners. Bowls and cups of agate were favored. Nero, for example, was a collector of agate cups. This bowl predates Nero by several decades, but is an example of the high quality agate items favored by emperors and wealthy nobility. A bowl of this quality would have belonged to a person as wealthy as Crassus (the richest man in ancient Rome), or perhaps even to Cesar himself.

Geologic Report of PhD Ronald L. Bonewitz, England:

- Although fragmentary, this bowl is notable for its superior workmanship and material.
- The bowl is craved I a fine, multi-coloured agate with banding.
- A likely source for the agate is the deposit along the The Drillo, or Acate, a 54-kilometere (34 mi) river in Sicily. The Roman writer Theophrastus in his treatise On Stone (ca. 315 B.C.) indicates that the name of the gemstone achates (agate) was based on the source of such stones from this river.
- The bowl would have required a large piece of agate, presumably weighing several kilos.
- The shaping of the bowl would have been slow and time consuming because of its delicacy. It is clearly the work of a master lapidary.

PARALLELS:

- DARIO DEL BUFFALO, Murrina Vasa. A Luxury of Imperial Rome. 2016. no. 60. A Magnificent Roman Agate Plate, Size: 36 cm diameter. Rome, 4th – 5th century AD.

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