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. Animals were favoured decorative motives, either associated with specific deities or myths, or as popular domestic animals. In Roman religion, birds were important animals connected with the method of divination which involved the observation of their flights. This was practiced by the augures and the signs they interpreted were called auspicia. Decorative motives featuring birds became extremely popular on ceremonial, everyday artefacts and jewellery.
To find out more about intaglios and Roman gods, please visit our relevant blog posts: Engraved Gemstones in Ancient Rome.