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‘Making an Impression’ exhibit highlights ancient engraved gemstones
Gem collection

“Making an Impression: The Art and Craft of Ancient Engraved Gemstones” at Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum is the first exhibition of ancient gems in the southeastern United States. The exhibit is open Aug. 27 - Nov. 27.

“Making an Impression: The Art and Craft of Ancient Engraved Gemstones,” opening at Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum on Saturday, Aug. 27, is the first exhibition of ancient gems in the southeastern United States. 

Organized by the museum’s curator of Greek and Roman art, Ruth Allen, “Making an Impression” draws from the museum’s collection of Greek and Roman gems, many of which have never been displayed publicly. The museum’s gems are supplemented and contextualized by key loans that explore the material, iconography and function of engraved gemstones in classical antiquity. 

Miniature images of subjects including gods, emperors, animals and characters from myth were carved on semiprecious stones in the Greek and Roman worlds. Typically mounted in rings, they were used as signets, amulets and personal ornaments. They were admired (and problematized) as luxury artworks, treasured as antiques and heirlooms and worn as statements of status, wealth, sophistication and learning. 

The exhibition explores the material, production and various functions of these small but significant ancient artworks. The pieces draw attention to the people who interacted with the gems — the enslaved miners who quarried the stones, the engravers who carved them, the individuals who wore them and the viewers impressed by their luster. 

Whether used as a seal stone, amulet or personal ornament, engraved gems were intimately involved in the making, marking and safeguarding of personal identity. Despite their small size and seeming frivolity, engraved gems provide large windows to different aspects of the classical world: cross-Mediterranean trade and the expansion of empire; administrative practice; the expression of gender, status and wealth; the pursuit of luxury; encounters with the divine; and ideas about magic and medicine. 

“Making an Impression” is made possible through generous support from the Michael J. Shubin Endowment, the Evergreen Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, Krista Lankswert and New Roman Creative.

For more information, visit the Carlos Museum website.

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