The term intaglio refers to a small image that has been engraved into a gemstone and is usually set in a piece of jewellery, most commonly a ring. Such an artistic form has its origin in Sumer in the 4th millennium BC, with the appearance of cylinder and stamp seals, whereby decorations and patterns were engraved into soft stones. During the Hellenistic period and the early Roman Empire, the art of intaglio reached its apogee, with there being a steady decline in craftsmanship in late Imperial Rome, until a revival of interest with the Byzantine and during the Renaissance.
The subjects used for intaglios are diverse, with depictions of deities and mythical creatures being a favourite theme. Cupid was generally represented as a cute chubby boy with wings, carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. During the Hellenistic period, the representation of Eros, Greek counterpart of Cupid, underwent a significant change. The god who had previously been depicted as a slender, nude youth was re-envisioned as a chubby toddler. This shift in Cupid’s form seems to run parallel to the increasing interest in the representation of children as subject matter in Hellenistic art. This notably youthful image of Eros carried over into that of Cupid in the Roman period, not only in representations of the god himself but also in mythological or genre scenes depicting multiple Erotes or putti.
To discover more about Roman deities, please visit our relevant blog post: Roman Gods in Mythology