The Guy Ladrière Collection of Gems and Rings by Diana Scarisbrick and Claudia Wagner John Boadman
Hardcover with dustjacket. Publisher: Philip Wilson Publishers (2016). Pages: 320. Size: 10 x 8 x 1¼ inches; 3½ pounds. One of the world’s finest assemblages of rings and gemstones, the Guy Ladrière Collection in Paris is of major importance both to the collector and the art historian. This handsome volume, written and compiled by three of the foremost experts on gems and semi-precious stones, is the first to catalogue, illustrate and describe all the pieces in the Collection. Comprising some three hundred items, and including a rich and varied mixture of cameos and intaglios, the Collection ranges from ancient artifacts originating in the Minoan period to gemstones and rings of the nineteenth century. It also boasts many medieval pieces, Christian crystal plaques and Lombardic stones with inscriptions. Of special interest are the prize pieces in the Collection. These include the famous rhinoceros, most probably depicting an identifiable animal (the celebrated ‘Madrid’ rhinoceros, also known as the ‘Marvel of Lisbon’ and taken from Portugal to Spain in 1583); Queen Elizabeth I crowned with the mythological lionskin of Hercules, and presented as the power to tame the forces of evil; and some remarkable and varied pairs of heads.
Diana Scarisbrick, a noted authority on engraved gems, and a former Jewelry Editor at Harpers & Queen Magazine, is now a Research Associate at the Beazley Archive in the University of Oxford. Her many publications include “Finger Rings: Ancient and Modern” (2006) and “Rings: Miniature Monuments to Love, Power and Devotion” (2014).
REVIEW: Claudia Wagner is a Senior Researcher at the Beazley Archive, where she directs the gems databases and research program, and Senior Research Lecturer at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. She is co-author (with John Boardman) of The Marlborough Gems (2009).
REVIEW: Sir John Boardman, FBA, is Emeritus Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art in the University of Oxford. His many books include “The History of Greek Vases” (2006) “The Oxford History of Classical Art” (1997), “The Oxford History of the Classical World” (1986) and “The World of Ancient Art” (2006).
REVIEW: This book catalogues, for the first time, the world-class collection of antique rings, engraved gemstones, and cameos of Parisian art dealer and collector Guy Ladrière. Cameos and intaglios are the focus and stars of this assemblage of nearly 300 pieces, with sumptuous color photographs of these coveted rare gems. The three co-authors are all well respected authorities in their fields.
Diana Scarisbrick is a noted jewelry historian and author of a number of books, including "Finger Rings: Ancient to Modern" (2006) and "Rings: Miniature Monuments to Love, Power and Devotion" (2014). Claudia Wagner, a senior researcher at Oxford University’s Beazley Archive, wrote "The Marlborough Gems" (2009) with Sir John Boardman, the third co-author of this book. Boardman is Emeritus Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art at the University of Oxford. He also authored "Greek Gems and Finger Rings" (2001), "The World of Ancient Art" (2006), and "Greek Art" (2012) among other titles.
Scarisbrick’s introduction gives the reader a glimpse into Guy Ladrière’s world and his passion for engraved stones. She tells the story of how this Parisian dealer of Old Master paintings and sculpture became fascinated with engraved gemstones during a research period at the Louvre. From this initial spark came a thirst for knowledge on the topic of ancient intaglios and cameos. He studied museum collections in France, Austria, England, and Italy.
Ladrière came to realize that the art form was worth collecting no matter the era in which it was created, and over the years he acquired these small sculptures from many time periods. This catalog shows the wide range of high-quality historical gems that Ladrière has assembled, including Roman rings, medieval intaglios, Renaissance cameos, eighteenth century brooches, and more.
The first chapter, entitled “In The Round,” focuses on stones carved as full three-dimensional sculptures. There are ten stones in this chapter, dating from the late 1st century to the 19th century. The first piece in this chapter is an exquisitely carved portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, crowned with a lion skin of Hercules, as the mythological queen Omphale. Elizabeth encouraged allegorical portraits of herself for political purposes, and the lion skin of Hercules represents the power to fight evil. This piece is carved from a red and lilac agate, and dates from the late sixteenth century.
A classical bust of a man (possibly the Roman emperor Domitian) wearing a scale corselet or breastplate, is carved in turquoise with intricate detail. Dating from the late first century, this small sculpture emulates the large marble busts of Roman emperors in military armor, but on a miniature scale. The classical theme is seen in other small carvings as well, such as an eighteenth century chrome chalcedony bust of Jupiter Serapis, with his long hair and beard and modius on his head, and a chrysoprase bust of Hippocrates, the father of medicine and science, circa 1820.
An unusual sardonyx from the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century, carved with three grotesque heads, is photographed in beautiful detail. It was mounted later with a gold and amethyst snake style hinges and pendant ring. The large noses and full lips give each face its own character. Stones like these, according to the text, were originally inserted into the handles of daggers.
“Cameos” is the largest chapter, filled with some of the most beautiful cameos this reviewer has seen in any collection. They are carved from a wide variety of stones such as sardonyx, carnelian, and turquoise. Some are set as brooches or stickpins or set in gold rings; one example is carved from a ring made out of one piece of red amber. The majority of the cameos are heads in profile, some in very high relief but a few in three-quarter view.
One from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, called just “The Head of a Youth,” is unique because it is not a full profile. The subject actually is turning his head slightly away from the viewer, and his high relief ear is at the center of the composition, a unique twist on the traditional pose. A portrait of Alexander the Great with Ammon horns in yellow and white onyx is mounted in a brooch with four tourmalines. The piece has an elegant classical style with golden locks of hair carved from the yellow onyx.
There are no fewer than eleven Medusa head cameos in this section, dating from first century Rome through the Victorian period. A popular classical motif, Medusa with her hair writhing with snakes is represented in red carnelian, agate, turquoise, and light blue chalcedony. The mountings used are almost as beautiful as the cameos themselves. A portrait bust of Louis XIII in yellow and red sardonyx is framed in a seventeenth century frame of pearls, diamonds, and enameled palmette panels.
On the opposite page is a high relief sardonyx of an African man with a gold and diamond diadem in a gold stickpin. In a section on figural cameos, there is a Renaissance revival pendant with elaborate enameled designs set with emeralds, pearls and diamonds. The sardonyx cameo is of Ganymede with Jupiter as an eagle seated on rocks. The chapter ends with animal cameos, including a charming rhinoceros from the sixteenth century depicting the “Marvel of Lisbon,” a famous rhino that arrived at the Portuguese court in 1577.
The chapter on intaglios focuses on concave engravings, which differ from raised convex carvings associated with cameos. The majority of the intaglios are set in signet rings or seals. Used for centuries to personalize documents, these gems were pressed into wax to make the mark of the owner or originator of the document. This book shows not only the photo of the intaglio gem in its setting, but also the wax impression it makes in a black and white photograph. This allows the reader to see some details of the design that are difficult to see just looking at the engraved gem.
A first century ring, with an intaglio head of a Roman man carved in a ruby, shows the profile of a man wearing a laurel wreath, similar to the one that first inspired the collection. Ladrière’s collection of rings is wide ranging. The “Rings” chapter starts with Greek and Roman rings, and then moves to the Middle Ages with Merovingian, Lombardic, and Byzantine pieces. Engraved gold signet rings and intaglio stones are testaments to the time and culture in which they were made. It is a history of early Western rings all in one collection.
One of the most beautiful pieces in the collection is in the “Christian Subject” chapter. A rock crystal plaque made in Rome around 1530–40, depicts the flagellation of Christ, who is bound to a Roman column. The plaque is etched in amazing detail and in typical classical Renaissance perspective. The architecture and all the figures depicted are classical ideal proportions, and depth is created with a strong linear perspective, as seen in the paintings from that period. Despite the cracks and chipping that have accrued over the centuries, it is still a masterwork of the engravers’ art.
This book would be a wonderful addition to the library of art historians, jewelry enthusiasts, or anyone who has a passion for beautifully engraved gemstones. [Gemological Institute of America].
REVIEW: There can be few collections of gems and rings in private hands that are so large, rich and varied and which contain so many items of such importance. The tone is set by the very first item in the catalog: a contemporary bust in the round of Queen Elizabeth as Hercules. There are important Greek and Roman gems and rings, and a rich assortment of Late Antique and Merovingian gems and rings, as well as Byzantine and Medieval gems and gem-settings, including spectacular works from the court of the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II. For me the stars of the show lie in the Renaissance and Early Modern period, especially the representation of an Indian rhinoceros: a cameo carved by Jacopo da Trezzo. A number of the gems are recorded as having come from important old collections - for instance those formally in the possession of, respectively, the Earl of Arundel, Cardinal Albani, Marlborough, Wyndham Cook and Sir John Evans. In reality many of the items are very small, and a great joy of the volume is the quite magnificent photography. In opening this volume you will be unlocking the doors of a Kunstkammer and viewing a cabinet of rare marvels. [Martin E Henig, Honorary Visiting Professor of Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, University College London; formerly Supernumerary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford].
REVIEW: The Guy Ladrière collection in Paris, which includes artifacts from the Minoan period to 19th century gems, is an important historical jewelry collection and has been celebrated in an exceptional new book written by Diana Scarisbrick, Claudia Wagner and John Boardman called “The Guy Ladrière Collection of Gems and Rings”.
REVIEW: This handsome volume, written and compiled by three of the foremost experts on gems and semi-precious stones, is the first to catalogue, illustrate and describe all the pieces in the Guy Ladriere Collection.