Theatrical Mask

by Giovanni Pichler (1734-1791)


very finely carved into a richly coloured piece of deep brown sard, depicting a Greek theatrical mask in a left facing profile with a wreath of vine leaves and grapes, the hair platted and bound with ribbons.

Signed: Π
Rome, c.1770-1780.

Bezel 2 cm by 1.5 cm

Mounted in a gold finger ring in the antique taste, contemporary to the gem, circa 1780.


The intaglio is apparently the same gem recorded in the publications below:

Number 90, Catalogo d’Impronti cavati da Gemme incise dal Cav.r Giovanni Pichler (Pichler, 1787). “Stage mask, invention of the craftsman, intaglio in sardonyx (translation).”

Number 196, 64, Descrizione di una collezione di N.8131 Impronte in smalto possedute in Roma da Tommaso Cades in Gesso cavate accuratamente dale piu’ celebri Gemme incise conosciute, che esistono nei principali Musei e Collezioni particolari di Europa (No. 1148 Impronte delle migliori Gemme incise dagl’Incisori piu’ distini Moderni, incominciando dal Secolo XV) (Cades, circa 1829). “Thought to be ancient but invented by the author (Pichler) (translation).”

No. 146, Die Drei Meister Der Gemmoglyptik: Antonio, Giovanni und Luigi Pichler, Eine Biographisch-Kunstgeschichtliche Darstellung (Rollett, 1874). “Giovanni Pichler’s Werke, Intaglien, Maske, nach rechs gewendet. Bez: Π – Sarder.”

Tav CLIII, No.3, Gemmen und Kameen des Altertums und der Neuzeit (Lippold, 1922). “Bacchische Maske, Von (G.) P.(ichler) signiert.”

No.308, Tomo V, Casetto 6, La Collezione Paoletti: Stampi in vetro per impronte di intagli e cammei, volume II (Stefanelli, 2012).


It is interesting that Cades records that the intaglio was believed to have been made in Classical antiquity for a time during the nineteenth century. It was considered the very highest compliment paid to a gem engraver for their work to be mistaken for that of their ancient predecessors. The gems of ancient Greece and Rome were considered the finest by connoisseurs of the eighteenth century. It is unsurprising then that several accounts survive of Pichler’s work having been incorrectly identified as ancient, no doubt retold by Pichler himself in an act of self-promotion. Pichler’s choice to sign his gems in Greek illustrates his desire to align his work with that of antiquity.

Giovanni Pichler

Giovanni Pichler was born in Naples on the 1st January, 1734, the first born son of Antonio Pichler and his first wife. The family moved to Rome in 1743, where Pichler’s education was
entrusted to the artist Domenico Corvi, who instructed him in drawing. At the age of 14, he received instruction from his father in gem engraving, whilst continuing to practise drawing and painting, regularly attending the Vatican to copy scenes from Raphael’s friezes and Classical sculpture.

In 1761 he was commissioned to produce a substantial painting for an altarpiece for the Franciscan Church of Orioli. He would also complete a large altarpiece for the Augustinians
in Bracciano. In 1769, Pichler was commissioned to produce a portrait of Emperor Joseph II during his visit to Rome. Whilst intended to be a discreet likeness, taken from behind a screen, the Emperor was introduced to Pichler and was impressed by his work. He appointed him his personal court gem engraver and knighted him as a member of the German guard (although his attempts to persuade Pichler to move to Vienna did not succeed).

In 1775, Pichler contemplated moving to England, as the city of London increasingly became a centre of gem engravers and collectors. However, he and his family only reached as far as Milan. During his time in the city, he completed several gems.

His studio was considered the most famous in Italy and many travellers on the Grand Tour would visit him to have their portraits taken. He also trained many notable engravers of the early 19th Century, including Filippo Rega, Antonio Berini, Giovanni Antonio Santarelli and Christian Friedrich Hecker.

In 1790, he had produced a cast catalogue of 200 glass impressions of his work. He died on 25th January, 1791 from smallpox.