An Eighteenth Century Gold Ring with Ancient Roman Intaglio

English, circa 1780


an oval shaped engraved cabochon garnet depicting an adult bull in profile with ground line.

2nd – 3rd Century CE

Mounted in an antique rose coloured gold ring mount, circa 1780.

In Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis, garnets fall into a group of stones referred to as Carbunculus, which literally translates as ‘red hot coal.’ They were highly prized for their fiery colour and brilliance. Pliny describes the Carchedonian Carbunculus as having a swarthy appearance, which when examined in the sunlight exhibited a flame colour that scintillated. It was thought that the stones not only looked like fire, they contained it. Pliny writes that according to Archelaus, “wax, if sealed with these stones, in the shade even, will melt”.

The blood of the bull was also thought to contain fire, the source of the animal’s characteristic anger. Bulls were considered to be an attribute of the king of the gods Jupiter, who often assumed the guise of this animal.