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Stolen Jewels, Now on Display

Stolen Jewels, Now on Display


For six months, a staff on the British Museum has been working with police to get well lots of of engraved gems and different gadgets of jewellery that museum officers say a former curator stole from its retailer rooms.

The staff has additionally been planning an exhibition.

“Rediscovering Gems,” occupying a room by the British Museum’s grand entrance by means of June 2, consists of dozens of the tiny artifacts generally known as cameos and intaglios — 10 of that are recovered gadgets.

Art sellers who purchased the stolen gadgets — a few of which date again to historical Rome — have to date returned 357 treasures to the museum, stated Aurélia Masson-Berghoff, a curator who’s main the restoration staff.

Although over 1,000 gadgets are nonetheless lacking, and will take years to find, Masson-Berghoff stated her staff was hopeful that these could possibly be recovered, too. The new exhibition was a part of the museum’s efforts to be clear concerning the thefts and its efforts to retrieve the gadgets, she added.

During a current tour of the present, Claudia Wagner, the museum’s senior analysis affiliate for gems, stated that the jewels had lengthy been underappreciated. The tiny artifacts — usually lower than a half-inch tall — are onerous to discern in pure gentle, making them straightforward to disregard, she added. In the exhibition corridor, small torches are offered in order that guests can see them correctly.

Some of the museum’s earlier Greek and Roman curators had most well-liked to concentrate on larger and extra famend artifacts like statues and vases, Wagner stated, which might clarify why most of the cameos and intaglios had been uncataloged earlier than the thefts.

On the tour of the present, Wagner and Masson-Berghoff mentioned the origins of those valuable gems, their makes use of in historical occasions and the way they as soon as entranced Europe’s artwork connoisseurs. These are edited extracts of that dialog.


WAGNER The first engraved gems had been what’s known as intaglios — the place the design is carved into the gem or glass. They had been used as seals, so individuals would push them into moist clay — the equal of writing your signature.

They had been invented in Mesopotamia, but it surely’s the traditional Greeks who make them into their very own artwork type, and since the Greeks had been so concerned with mythology, you instantly have all of the gods represented. If you look very, very intently at this tiny little determine, he has an ivy wreath in his hair. That’s as a result of that is Bacchus, the god of wine.

The gem is so small — solely a centimeter or two — since you wore it as a hoop.


WAGNER As properly as intaglios, there are cameos, the place the design is carved in aid. This is a fairly good one in all Cupid — a stunning boy with wings. A number of them had been presents, and whenever you take a look at this, you do have the sensation it was for a darling lover.

Cameos and intaglios had been first engraved on valuable stones. The Romans solely realized make glass gems within the first century A.D. Glass was new and thrilling for them and it meant that you may mass produce these things. It was nonetheless a very sophisticated and tough course of to soften glass right into a mould, and you discover numerous glass gems sit in very costly gold mounts.


WAGNER In the Renaissance, individuals grew to become utterly obsessive about carved gems, as a result of everybody was wanting again at how nice the classical artists had been.

Collectors additionally cherished gems as a result of they had been undamaged. If they purchased a classical statue, it’d be lacking its arms, or its nostril. But these cameos had been full, so collectors had been seeing the picture because the Greeks and Romans did. Neither of those gems had been stolen or recovered — not like the opposite gadgets — however they’ve been included within the exhibition to point out the great thing about the tiny pictures, and the difficulties in making these masterpieces in glass.

MASSON-BERGHOFF Michelangelo is assumed to have copied a cameo of Augustus and used it in his design for Adam within the Sistine Chapel. His Adam has the identical pose. The craze for gems actually began within the Renaissance.

WAGNER In the 18th century, collectors occurring the Grand Tour round Europe additionally grew to become fascinated by antiquity, and a few grew to become big gem collectors.

Because so many individuals had been attempting to purchase these objects, engravers began making numerous fakes. It was an enormous scandal, as a result of all of a sudden everybody thought, “We can’t distinguish between what’s historical and what’s new anymore.’

This cameo is a faux. We do not know who it’s meant to be. Usually they’re meant to be intellectuals, however you may see this isn’t fairly proper: He’s not one of many nice philosophers you would possibly acknowledge from antiquity. And the feel can also be completely different to different cameos: it’s a lot smoother.

With the assistance of our chemists, we will now distinguish what’s Roman glass and what isn’t.


WAGNER These gems are very tough to exhibit, as a result of they’re so small. This one is barely two centimeters in size. In the exhibition, we’ve bought an infinite copy of this one on the wall so individuals can see all the small print clearly. It coveys its magnificence.

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