Throughout the Graeco-Roman world, hard stones were employed by highly-skilled craftsmen to be fashioned into bespoke statuary for an exclusive audience. Most of these sculptures were petite and of exceptional quality, jewel-like, mirroring the brilliance of the material. The majority of these figurines were exploited as attachments or embellishments on sceptres, crowns, standards and furniture. More rarely, a sculpture in hard stone was made as a stand-alone complete figure.
Chalcedony was one of the preferred materials for such treasured statuary. The lustrous milky-white hue was especially complementary for shadow play – as light could equally pass through the translucency of the stone, while reflecting on the high surface polish and further darkening the carved crevices. The present figurine vividly exemplifies this vibrant effect. The folds of drapery generate deep shadows, juxtaposing their darkness from the waxy lustre of the even surfaces.
Like other quartz stones, such as agate, carnelian and amethyst, chalcedony was primarily utilized throughout antiquity for gemstones – carved as seals or cameos. The raw material was an expensive commodity, a luxury reserved for the wealthiest citizens. Even a miniature sculpture, such as this figure, would have been an extravagance. he sensitive carving of this dramatic figure is a testament to its significance in antiquity. The outstanding state of preservation allows the patina to continue to gleam as it did originally over two thousand years ago.
Provenance: Private Collection, Eastern Europe, 1980s.
Published: PBA, 17 June 2010, no 359.