King: Mediaeval Gem Engraving

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MEDIEVAL GEM ENGRAVING.
By C. TV. KING, M.A.
All who have written upon the Glyptic Art assume that gem engraving was utterly extinct in Europe during the whole extent of the Middle Ages that is, from the coronation of Charlemagne as Emperor of the West in the year 800 down to the middle of the fifteenth century (1453), when Greek fugitives from Constantinople re-established its practice in Italy.) The continuance of the art within the Greek em­pire during that period does not enter into the question, for this, together with all the other arts of antiquity, maintained a feeble existence there down to the very last, as numerous camei, some in fine sardonyx but the greater part in bloodstone, remain to testify. The agreement of these in style with the bezants of John Zimisses and the Comneni shows that the manufacture of such ecclesiastical decorations (their subjects are always Scriptural) was prosecuted with con­siderable briskness between the tenth century and the thirteenth. No Byzantine intagli were, however, produced during the same period, for if such had existed, they would be easily recognisable by the same unmistakeable stamp of the epoch impressed upon them, both as to subjects and their treatment, that marks the Byzantine camei and ivory carvings. The reason for this extinction of intaglio engraving-is obvious enough ; signets cut in hard stones were no longer in request, the official seals for stamping the leaden bullae authenticating public documents were, like coin-dies, sunk in iron ; whilst those for personal use were engraved in the precious metals.
Camei were the ornaments above all others deemed appro­priate for reliquaries and similar furniture of the altar; a tradition dating from imperial times. In the estimate of art then current, the value of the material and the time expended
 
 

 
     
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