The catalogue "Universe in miniature" is published
The Catalogue of engraved stones from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts comprises 174 intaglios and cameos. Among them Oriental, Classical and European specimens from the Ancient to Modern times. The Museum’s collection of gems has never before been exhibited on this scale and in such a full range.
As things stand at the moment, Classical, Oriental, West-European engraved stones are shared out among the Departments for the Art and Archaeology of the Ancient World, for the Ancient East and Numismatics. Exhibits once belonged to the former collection of Moscow’s Imperial University; more than 300 of the engraved stones in the form of gems and seals were acquired in 1911 together with the collection of Vladimir S. Golenishchev – egyptologyst and Hermitage curator of Egyptian antiquities. Further additions to the collection of engraved stones were of a somewhat random nature: a magnificent selection of gems came from archaeological excavations of the Classical city-sites of the North Pontic region: Panticapaeum, Phanagoria, Hermonassa, Tyramba, Tyritake starting from the 1930s. European gems dating from 16th to the end of 19th century – part of known Moscow collection of Alexander Golikov, were purchased in 1945 as well as recent acquisitions from other private collectors.
Illustrated Catalogue with annotations presents a selection of gems from the collection of Pushkin Museum. Engraved stones of classical antiquity illustrated a far-reaching influence in later centuries, through the Renaissance into modern times. Small list of the earliest stamp seals, cylinders and Sasanian seals shows the sources of Oriental engraving art and its transformation since Bronze Age to 3rd – 7th centuries. Styles rang from Etruscan a globolo gems which are widely diffused in the east and come even to determine the style of Sasanian gems in Persia.
Classical gems are systematized in the Catalogue by the subjects. The most numerous subjects were those of a religious nature inspired by figures drawn from the art and mythology of the past. On gems we can find whole Greek and Roman pantheons, Egyptian, Near-Eastern and Persian deities. A special group of gems consists of those bearing depictions of symbols and allegories. Various genre scenes are often the only source of information we have on certain aspects of everyday life in the society of Ancient Greece and Rome as well as famous public and political figures, philosophers and rulers.
Limited number of European gems from Pushkin Museum collection was inspired mainly by Classical gems. European stone-engravers adopted the techniques, compositions and subjects used by their predecessors, however, they often used more complex carving techniques while following in the footsteps of the craftsmen from Ancient Greece and Rome. They used new methods for working stone, producing more highly polished works and thus achieving a rich interplay of light and shade.
By the second half of the 19th century the urge to create cheaper carvings in miniature that could be produced more rapidly led to the replacement of the minerals used in the past by cheaper and softer materials such as shells, corals and ivory. Gradually the highly skilled art of stone-engraving went into decline. All that those with a taste for all that is beautiful today can do is admire the refined beauty, virtuoso skills and plasticity of form to be found in these gems bequeathed to us by our ancestors from the distant past.