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. Mercury, Mercurius in Latin, was a major component of the Ancient Roman pantheon. Commonly identified with the Ancient Greek god Hermes, his cult has a long tradition, with the earliest evidences of his name found on Linear B tables dating to the 15th – 13th century BC. As messenger and herald, Mercury/Hermes features in several mythological episodes, such as the killing of Argos. His representations in Roman art derive from the Greek tradition, maintaining Hermes’ attributes such as the winged sandals (talaria) and hat (petasos).