Ring with intaglio depicting a lion

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A solid ring with intaglio at its centre in red jasper at its centre. The stone shows a representation of the profile of a lion.

In ancient Rome, a lion was considered to be an exotic animal, as Romans very infrequently had a chance to see one. They were brought from the provinces to the capital of the Empire to take part in spectacles in the amphitheatres, such as fights between gladiators and animals, or the “damnatio ad bestias”, when Christians and delinquents were condemned to death and killed by savage animals, such as lions.

Since antiquity the world of jewellery has had a close relationship to a determined status. Both men and women enjoyed being surrounded by luxury and enjoyed the use of precious stones and metals. However, while men introduced these into their life in general, for example, in the decoration of their houses, women were the only ones to wear adornments. The only exception in the case of men was that they did wear rings.

Roman jewellery reached heights of invention never seen before and never surpassed until the Renaissance. Imperial Rome was the world centre for jewellery and great quantities of precious stones and materials were imported for use in this field.

Initially the style of the pieces was typically Etruscan or Greek, but soon a style of its own developed in Rome. Pieces were ornate and sumptuous with mountings of precious stones, opus interassile metalwork and mosaics of small stones set on gold and silver. Another specialty of Roman craftsmanship was the cutting of gems, the highly-esteemed engraving and sculpting, above all on cameos of agate and onyx, stones with diverse layers of colours that, once the working on the piece was finished, produced an effect of depth and polychromy. Mostly cameos were dedicated to portraiture.

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