Gemma Augustea

Gemma Augustea
Gemma Augustea

This huge cameo from the Roman period has become the great jewel in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A cameo that has high-quality reliefs that have on many occasions been compared to the Ara Pacis or Altar of Peace ordered to be created by Emperor Augustus, who would also commission the realization of this delicate work of art.


Gemma Augustea

This is a piece of onyx with a size of 23 x 19 centimeters, and perhaps it was a little larger, since certain fractures or incomplete details can be seen. Some losses that are not surprising considering that this jewel dates from the first half of the 1st century.

The scene, there are actually two, are dedicated to ex alting the Augustan dynasty, so it is more than possible that it was commissioned by the emperor himself, to be exhibited institutionally in his palace or in some public building set in a metal frame. And it is necessary to take into account that the cost of this work would be very high given its quality and that not any sculptor would dare to carry out such fine work in such a material. And on the other hand, the delicacy and fragility of the onyx is great for it to be an object that moves excessively, so it is thought that it would be in a fixed location.

The cameo is divided into two carved friezes. In the upper one appears Tiberius, heir and future emperor, who enters the scene in a chariottriumphant and stops to greet Augusto who we see sitting majestic on a throne. It is supposed to represent the return of Tiberius as the winner of the victory over the Dalmatians in the year 9. We also see Germanicus, another member of the Augustan lineage and possible heir, being nephew of Augustus.

We see how everyone looks at the emperor, who is identified with Jupiter because of the eagle under the seat. Next to him isLivia, his wife. And another woman appears, but this would be la Dea Roma, a personification of the Roman Empire.

And in the lower register, seated figures are seen that would represent the vanquished, the German, Dalmatian and Pannonian barbarian peoples. While they are seated, some Roman legionnaires raise a military trophy. All this before the attentive gaze of a female figure with two javelins, who would be the goddess Diana.

But beyond the characters represented or the laudatory tone loaded with symbology posed by the Gemma Augustea, the truth is that this is a sculptural work of the highest quality. With a carving of great delicacy, taking into account the material characteristics of onyx, which is not an easy material to work with, and even less so to achieve this degree of detail in the details of the faces, the clothes or the different attributes such as crowns of laurel or armament.

Popular topic