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p1010 Scalptura

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp1010‑1011 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

SCALPTURA or SCULPTURA. There are two different forms of this word both in Greek and Latin, viz. scalpo, scalptura and sculpo, sculptura (in Greek γλάφω and γλύφω), and there is much doubt respecting their precise meaning. The original meaning, common to them, is undoubtedly the cutting of figures out of a solid material. The general opinion is, that both scalpo and sculpo, with their derivatives, signify the same thing, only different in degree of perfection, so that scalptura would signify a coarse or rude, sculptura an elaborate and perfect engraving. This opinion is chiefly based upon the following passages: Horat. Sat. II.3.22; Ovid, Met. X.248; Vitruv. IV.6 (compare the commentators on Suet. Galb. 10). Others again believe that scalpo (γλάφω) signifies to cut figures into the material (intaglio) and sculpo (γλύφω) to produce raised figures, as in cameos. But it is very doubtful whether the ancients themselves made or observed such a distinction. From the passages in which the words occur, both in Greek and Latin writers, it seems that, in their widest sense, they were used, almost indifferently, for what we call sculpture, in its various forms, in wood, marble, ivory, or other materials, more particularly for reliefs, for carving, that is, the execution of small works by cutting, and for engraving precious stones; but, of these sense, the last was the most specific and usual; the first, in which modern writers use the word sculpture, was the most unusual [Statuaria]. (See the Greek and Latin Lexicons.)

It may be expedient, however, in accordance with the above distinction to divide the art into two departments: 1. the art of cutting figures into the material (intaglios), which was chiefly applied to producing seals and matrices for the mints; and 2. the art of producing raised figures (cameos), which served for the most part as ornaments.

The former of these two branches was much more extensively practised among the ancients than in modern times, which arose chiefly from the general custom of every free man wearing a seal-ring [Annulus]. The first engravings in metal or stone, which served as seals, were simple and rude signs without any meaning, sometimes merely consisting of a round or square hole (Meyer, Kunstgeschichte, I.10). In the second stage of the art, certain symbolical or conventional forms, as in the worship of the gods, were introduced, until at last, about the age of Pheidias and Praxiteles, this, like the other branches of the fine arts, had completed its free and unrestrained career of development, and was carried to such a degree of perfection that, in the beauty of design as well as of execution, the works of the ancients remain unrivalled down to the present day. But few of the names of artists, who excelled in this art, have come down to us. Some intaglios, as well as cameos, have a name engraved upon them, but it is in many cases more probable that such are the names of the owners than of the artists. The first artist who is mentioned as an engraver of stones is Theodorus, the son of Telecles, the Samian, who engraved the stone in the ring of Polycrates (Herod. III.41). The most celebrated among them was Pyrgoteles, who engraved the seal-rings for Alexander the Great (Winckelmann, VI p107, &c.; see the articles in the Dict. of Biog.). The art continued for a long time after Pyrgoteles in a very high state of perfection, and it appears to have been applied about this period to ornamental works. For several of the successors of Alexander and other wealthy persons adopted the custom, which was and is still very prevalent in the East, of adorning their gold and silver vessels, craters, candelabras, and the like, with precious stones on which raised figures (cameos) were worked (Ath. XI p481;º Cic. c. Verr. II.4.27, &c.). Among the same class of ornamental works we may reckon such vessels and paterae as consisted of one stone, upon which there was in many cases a whole series of raised figures of the most exquisite workmanship (Appian, Mithrid. 115; Cic. l.c.; Plin. H. N. XXXVII.3). The art was in a particularly flourishing state at Rome under Augustus and his successors, in the hands of Dioscurides p1011and other artists, many of whose works are still preserved. Respecting the various precious and other stones which the ancient artists used in these works, see Müller, Archäol. § 313.

As regards the technical part of the art of working in precious stones, we only know the following particulars. The stone was first polished by the politor, and received either a plane or convex surface; the latter was especially preferred, when the stone was intended to serve as a seal. The scalptor himself used iron or steel instruments moistened with oil, and sometimes also a diamond framed in iron. these metal instruments were either sharp and pointed, or round. The ancients understood the use of diamond dust in this work (Plin. H. N. XXXVII.76; Müller, Arch. § 314.2). The stones which were destined to be framed in rings, as well as those which were to be inlaid in gold or silver vessels, then passed from the hands of the scalptor into those of the goldsmith (annularius, compositor).

Numerous specimens of intaglios and cameos are still preserved in the various museums of Europe, and are described in numerous works. For the literature of the subject, and an account of these gems and their engravers, see Winckelmann, Gesch. d. Kunst, and other works; Müller, Archäol. § 315, &c.; and Raoul-Rochette, Lettre à M. Schorn, 2d ed.

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