Engraved Scarab

Unknownearly 5th century B.C.

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum

A lioness stretches out, nursing her cub on the intaglio of this scarab. Although lions were probably the most popular motif on Archaic Greek gems, lionesses with cubs are rarely found in Greek art. On this example, the lioness has a mane, displaying a fairly common confusion on the part of Greek artists: never having seen a real lion, they did not understand that only male lions have manes.

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. 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.

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  • Title: Engraved Scarab
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date: early 5th century B.C.
  • Location Created: Greece
  • Physical Dimensions: 0.9 x 1.3 x 1.1 cm (3/8 x 1/2 x 7/16 in.)
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Carnelian
  • Source Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California
  • Object Type: Scarab
  • Object Status: Permanent Collection
  • Number: 81.AN.76.26
  • Display Location: Currently on view at: Getty Villa, Gallery 201C, Peristyle, Animals in Antiquity
  • Department: Antiquities
  • Culture: Greek
  • Classification: Jewelry