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Engraved Gem
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Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman

Attributed to Solon
Gem, Roman Empire, 30 - 20 B.C.
Amethyst in gold mount
1 5/16 x 1 3/16 in.
96.AN.290

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With his wavy hair cascading over a headband, the face of Apollo--the god of youth, music, and prophecy--is carved into the surface of this large amethyst. His portrait is presented in full profile. Apollo's features are idealized, as was typical in art of the early Roman Empire: a square face with broad cheeks, a round chin, and a remarkably straight nose.

Although this gem closely resembles other images of Apollo, scholars believe the artist, probably Solon, intended this as an idealized portrait not of the god, but of the Roman emperor Augustus. Roman emperors revered individual gods, and Augustus's patron god was Apollo. Augustus believed Apollo secured victory for his forces in the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C: Solon carved other images of Augustus and members of the Imperial family in the guise of deities.

Look closely and you will notice that the image is carved into the gem--a technique known as intaglio-- to create a sense of depth. A Neoclassical gold mount was added to the gem sometime during the late 1700s or early 1800s.