Ring with intaglio depicting the god Mercury

A solid hoop ring with intaglio in cornelian representing an effigy of the Roman god Mercury. He is carrying a caduceus in his right hand and in the left he is holding a bag of money.

In Roman mythology Mercury was the son of Jupiter and Maia. His name is possibly related to the Latin merx (merchandise). In his earlier forms he may have been related to an Etruscan deity, Turms. Most of his characteristics, however, and mythology around him come from the Greek god Hermes.

His role was as interpreter and messenger of the gods; he was the god of travellers, of eloquence and trade, and of thieves as well. As herald and messenger, Mercury practically always carried a caduceus, a sort of winged staff symbolizing commerce, and which had two entwined snakes in allusion to a fable. It was said that Mercury saw two snakes fighting and separated them peacefully with the staff. As a symbol the caduceus of Mercury is the most complete representation of the axis which makes up the point of confrontation between two opposites. It includes not only the axial vertical line but also the two entwined and symmetrical snakes which signify two forces in opposition and equilibrium.

He is also represented carrying a bag of money, a petasos, a round and sometimes winged hat, and talaria, winged shoes referring to the speed of his travelling.

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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