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Two Engraved Gemstones with Portrait Busts of Ptolemaic Kings

Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, became king of Egypt in 305 BC, and the dynasty he founded lasted three hundred years. Installed at Alexandria, the Ptolemaic court honored Egyptian customs but cultivated Greek ideas and artistic traditions as well. These two exquisitely carved gems follow the naturalistic approach developed by Greek artists; in fact, they portray Ptolemaic kings with a greater realism than had been previously used. The presentation of personal characteristics and an attentiveness to emotion in these gems is a hallmark of the Hellenistic period. It also marks the beginning of a royal portrait tradition that influenced the manner in which Roman emperors and later European monarchs were portrayed.

Greek, made in Alexandria (Egypt)
Two Engraved Gemstones with Portrait Busts of Ptolemaic Kings
Ptolomaic (Hellenistic) period, ca. 175–25 BC
Garnet
L. 5/8 in. (1.5 cm.) each
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Burton Y. Berry Collection, 76.85.14, 76.85.13