The term intaglio refers to a small image that has been engraved into a gemstone and usually set in a piece of jewellery, most commonly a ring. Such 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 the late Imperial Rome, until a revival of interest with the Byzantine and during the Renaissance.
The subject used for intaglios are diverse, with depictions of deities being a favourite theme. In the Ancient Greek and Roman mythologies and cultures, panthers were considered to be the faithful companions of the wine god Dionysus, or his Roman counterpart Bacchus. The panthers were sacred to the god, who is often depicted riding them on sculptures, mosaics and wall paintings. The Dionysian thiasos (procession) was one of the favourite subjects in Ancient Roman art. It featured the god and his wife Ariadne at the centre, surrounded and followed by various animals such as panthers, lions, tigers and creatures such as satyrs and nymphs. Exotic and wild animals were associated with the wild and uncontrolled nature of this god. Panthers were far from a mythological beast, however, and would have been a familiar sight across the Roman Empire. The ‘venationes’ (“hunts”) and other ‘spectacula’ (“shows”) of ancient Rome saw exotic species (including panthers, elephants, and bears) procured from all corners of the Roman Empire – a conscious demonstration in itself of the nation’s extensive reach and authority – and placed in the amphitheatre for gory entertainment.