a very fine intaglio of Psyche carved in an octagonally shaped amethyst, a left facing profile of the young maiden with her hair tied with ribbons, a small pair of butterfly wings on her back.
Mounted in a gold swivel ring in the antique style with reeded border and band.
The word psyche comes via Latin from the Greek for ‘breath’, ‘life’ and ‘soul.’ In antiquity, it was believed that the soul escaped the body in the form of a butterfly carried in the last breath of the dying. The story of the beautiful princess Psyche, who was tested by the goddess Venus, first appeared in late antiquity in The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius. It was considered an allegory of the soul’s journey through life. In painting and sculpture, Psyche is often depicted accompanied by her attribute the butterfly or with butterfly wings.
The choice of an amethyst for this subject is unlikely to be coincidental. In antiquity, it was believed to possess a purifying property and the ethereal and almost ephemeral quality of the stone, with its wisps of purple, suit the subject perfectly.
Examples of Rega’s work can be found in the collections of The British Museum, London; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore and The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
The Tale of Psyche
Psyche’s legendary beauty caused the goddess Venus intense jealousy. Venus instructed her son Eros to make Psyche fall in love with a hideous monster as an act of revenge (a conceit which would later inspire William Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Eros however fell in love with Psyche himself. To keep their affair secret, the lovers met at night-time and Eros forbid Psyche ever to see his face. Driven mad by curiosity, Psyche attempted to use Eros’ torch to see him in the dark. Eros considered this to be an act of betrayal and vanished.
To win him back, Psyche accepted a series of impossible tasks from Venus. Eros could not bear to watch Psyche suffer these tests and pleaded with the gods for their intercession. They made Psyche immortal and the lovers married in the heavens: a timeless love story.
Filippo Rega was born in Chieti on 20th August, 1761, the son of Giuseppe Rega and Veneranda Ruggieri. He initially followed his father’s profession, becoming a dealer in antiquities.
In 1776, Rega was sent to Rome where he was apprenticed to renowned gem engraver Giovanni Pichler. He was clearly a prodigious student and was entrusted with numerous important commissions.
Rega was a talented painter and modeller, receiving two awards at the Academy of San Luca, one for modelling the Archangel Raphael in the Church of St Augustine in Rome and another for his depiction of Abraham receiving the three angels. He remained in Rome for twelve years before moving to Naples at the age of 26.
Among his early patrons was The King of Sicily, who commissioned a portrait of Francesco Borbone, an engraved chrysolite mounted with diamonds, which was a gift to Maria Carolina, Archduchess of Austria.
The ambassador for Britain in Naples, William Hamilton, commissioned an engraved portrait of himself and his wife Lady Hamilton. The portrait of Emma Hamilton proved very popular and further reproductions of it were commissioned by Lord Bristol and Admiral Nelson. Rega would also complete a portrait of Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex.
In 1803, Rega was appointed a Member of the Institute of France, an honour he received from the Duke of Gallo, the ambassador to Paris. He was also made Knight of the Légion of Honour and a Member of the Royal Academy of Archaeology, Antiquities and Fine Arts.
He perhaps most famous for the work he completed for the Bonaparte family, including portrait medallions of Emperor Napoleon’s brother Giuseppe Bonaparte, as well as their sister Caroline and her husband Joachim Murat.
He became the Director of the Gem Engraving School in Naples and in 1808 Director of Laboratorio di Pietre Dure and Scuola di Incisione in Gemme. He also participated in the decoration of the Palatine Chapel in the royal apartments in Palermo.
In 1829, he became Director of the Mint of Naples and was knighted by King Francis I.
He died on 7th December, 1833.
For further information about this piece, please visit or contact us.