A Veritable Key Interlude

While poking around on the Internet for some pictures to inspire the artist for the campaign, I came across a small puzzle that I’d like to share with you.

While reading the Veritable Key of Solomon, the following illustration among the talismans of Venus caught my eye:

Veritable Key, p. 187

Veritable Key, p. 187

Isn’t that just bizarre?  You might recall, as previously stated, that this document dates to around 1796.   Imagine my surprise to come across this illustration from the public domain work India in Primitive Christianity by Arthur Lille, dating from 1909, at sacred-texts.com:

Gnostic Gem

Gnostic Gem

I’m hardly an expert on this sort of gem, and no provenance is given in the text, but I’d propose a date of the 2nd-3rd century.

This isn’t quite as unusual as it might seem.  Even as early as the eighteenth century, this sort of gem was recognized by antiquaries and historians.  It’s quite possible that the artist for the Key saw a gem such as this in a private collection – or in a museum? –  and decided to incorporate it into the manuscript.

A number of questions remain to be answered – how common was this sort of gem?  where could examples be found? – and I might not have the time myself.  Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing puzzle that I hope someone will decipher someday.

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 1:26 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Many coins of the time of Alexander feature him in an elephant headdress

  2. My first thought was to check out Kircher’s gnostic gems in Oedipus Aegyptiacus II, the section on Hieroglyphic Magic. No matches then. Next I turned to one of my favorite websites – The Beazley Archive – lots of gems from antiquity to the relatively modern. Visit this link: http://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/XDB/ASP/browseGemsPlates.asp?new=true
    A search for gem 13450 will bring turn up a page of interesting chimeras – check out the third down on the left, which pretty much exactly matches the design of the Gnostic gem you’ve shown, with the addition of a what looks like a feather at the bottom. There are other some examples on the second row down.

    Warburg Digital Collections recently added a few texts on gems and cameos – maybe those would be worth checking out.

    In what context is the gem presented by Arthur Lille?

  3. It may not be relevant, but the examples from Beazley are immediately followed by a combination of human and boar heads. An example of this image appear in Le Gemme Antiche Figurate di Leonardo Agnosti Senese (part I, plate 13, see Warburg site). It is said to be a depiction of Meleager, famed Classical boar slayer. So, if it isn’t Alexander perhaps the theme could be “heroes and things they have killed”…

  4. One more – I’ve just found a pretty exact match in Golaeus’ Dactyliotheca on the Warburg site – see the 46th ring (p.72).

  5. My apologies for all but hijacking this thread. I just wanted to say disregard my question about Lille – I missed the link to Sacred Texts.

    The Golaeus image seems to be an exact match for the Key – the orientation is the same, as is the scepter being held by the elephant. Unfortunately I was unable to track down any explanation of what it is actually supposed to represent – maybe someone else will have better luck!

  6. Here’s another find for you:

    “4. Masks of Silenus and of Bacchus, combined into the outline of an elephant’s head, bearing a caduceus in his trunk. The typical beast of India is an allusion to the Indian origin of the god; and the conceit was a favourite with the Romans, to judge from the number of such compositions that they have bequeathed us. Red jasper. (New York.)”

    I’d half suspected that all these carvings of crusty old blokes faces might have had something to do with Bacchus…

  7. Phil and Mike,

    Many thanks!

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