Etruscan scarab with athletes

Object number
Object: Etruscan scarab with athletes

Material: Orange shimmering stone. Carnelian.

Period: 450 BC to 400 BC.
Classical antiquity. Late Etruscan.

Description:    Scarab with a schematic top side of the beetle. A drill hole runs lengthways through the tall body and was used for threading. The bottom is flat and finely engraved. The imprint shows two athletes standing naked on a base line and turning their heads towards each other. The older of the two, identified in age by his beard, stands frontally and holds a strigilis in his hanging hand, a club in his raised hand. The younger athlete leans on a cane and lets the other hand hang loosely. A cloak hangs over his shoulder, and a long headpiece that hangs down his back. The area below the base line is filled with a hatch pattern. The scene is framed by an oval made of vertical lines.
The depiction of athletes on Etruscan scarabs is common, but this scene with two athletes in particular is rare. A somewhat bold interpretation identifies the characters as Hercules and Hermes. An interpretation that can be clearly made on comparative pieces based on the attributes, but in this case remains speculative.
What really stands out about the piece is the masterful engraving. The scarab is a miniature work of art of the highest quality and a showpiece of late Etruscan glyptics.

Dimensions: 16mm long, 12.5mm wide, 8mm high.

Condition: Museum worthy. Perfectly preserved apart from tiny chips. A modern imprint is not included.

Provenance: Acquired by us on the British art market in 2022. Previously privately owned by the Sangiorgi family in Switzerland. The scarab was added to the family collection by the well-known antiquities dealer Giorgio Sangiorgi (1886-1965). His gallery was located in the Palazzo Borghese in Rome until the inventory and private collection were transferred to Switzerland in the late 1930ies. In addition to the commercially traded art objects, Sangiorgi built a comprehensive collection of ancient gems, which he acquired in Europe between 1900 and 1939. He published numerous specialist articles on his gem collection.
The present scarab was purchased by Sangiorgi at the Christie, Manson & Woods London auction of 7 July 1925, lot 46. Previously the piece was owned by the London based Cook family, in the succession of Humphrey W. Cook (1983-1978), Frederica E. Stillwell Freeland (-1925), Wyndham F. Cook (1860-1905). W. F. Cook inherited the collection from his father Sir Francis Cook (1817-1901) who built it. It was kept at his Doughty House estate in Richmond, Great Britain. Between 1873 and 1877, the collection, which was famous at the time, was visited by several scholars. Among them was Adolf Michaelis, who explicitly mentioned Sir Francis Cook's gem collection as an important one in his work published in 1882. Sir Francis Cook acquired this scarab from the Robinson collection.

Publications: J. Boardman, C. Wagner, Masterpieces in Miniature, Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Present (London, 2018), p. 93, no. 81.
Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 7 July 1925, lot 46.
C. H. Smith, C. A. Hutton, Catalogue of the Antiquities in the Collection of the Late Wyndham Francis Cook, Esqre (London, 1908), p. 15 and plate II, no. 47.
A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain (1882), from page 619 onwards, it deals with the Sir Francis Cook collection and specifically mentions the gem collection, but without depicting or describing individual specimens.
There is a catalogue from 1914 by the dealer and collector Giorgio Sangiorgi called Collezione di vetri antichi dalle origini al V sec. D. C. It contains a good description of his collection. This particular piece was not yet part of the collection at the time and is therefore not shown.

References: A scene that is very similar in style and motif can be found on an Etruscan scarab in the British Museum, museum no. 1867.0507.350.
We also point out a kylix from our inventory depicting two Etruscan athletes, Alte Roemer Gallery, object number AR2430.

Authenticity: We unconditionally guarantee the authenticity of every artefact, all items are subject to our lifetime return policy on authenticity.