Engraved Scarab

Unknown525 - 500 B.C.

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum

A centaur, a part-man, part-horse mythological creature, wields a branch while running. Seemingly kneeling with one knee down, his pose is actually an artistic convention that signified fast motion in Archaic Greek art. This centaur has human front legs rather than the more usual equine ones.

Scarabs were pierced and generally worn as a ring or pendant. When attached to a metal hoop and worn as a ring, the beetle side faced out and the intaglio surface rested against the finger. When serving as a seal, the ring was removed, the scarab swiveled, and the intaglio design was pressed into soft clay or wax placed on an object to identify and secure it.

Greek gem carving changed dramatically in form, materials, and technique in the mid-500s B.C. One of these changes was the introduction of the scarab with its curved back carved like a beetle and its flat surface an intaglio scene. The scarab form ultimately derived from Egypt, where it had been used for seals and amulets for centuries. Certain features of Greek scarabs, however, such as the form of the beetle and the hatching around the intaglio motif, show the influence of Phoenician models, which the Greeks probably saw on Cyprus.

The use of rock crystal for a scarab is unusual. Most gems carved from rock crystal took the simpler scaraboid form, since the clear stone made the detailed carving of the beetle hard to see.

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  • Title: Engraved Scarab
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date: 525 - 500 B.C.
  • Location Created: Greece
  • Physical Dimensions: 2.2 x 1.6 x 1.2 cm (7/8 x 5/8 x 7/16 in.)
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Rock crystal
  • Source Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California
  • Object Type: Scarab
  • Object Status: Permanent Collection
  • Number: 84.AN.177
  • Display Location: Currently on view at: Getty Villa, Gallery 212, Coins, Gems and Jewelry
  • Department: Antiquities
  • Culture: Greek
  • Classification: Jewelry