A collection of 27 intaglios from the collection of Prince Stanislas Poniatowski (1754-1833), nephew of the last King of Poland, came to auction in London last month with a intriguing back-story.
An affluent exile in Italy after 1791,
Poniatowski was a passionate collector of antiquities and in later
life commissioned an extraordinary series of about 2500
He encouraged the belief that the gems were
ancient engravings (when in fact they were created by a group of
contemporary gem-engravers in Rome who signed them with known or
invented signatures) by publishing a catalogue of his gems with
When, after his death, this collection was
offered for sale by Christie's in London, connoisseurs and
potential buyers were outraged to discover that the gems were
'modern', and the sale was unsuccessful.
Nevertheless, one John Tyrrell, not
otherwise known as a collector, bought more than 1700 Poniatowski
Gems, believing them to be genuinely ancient, as an investment and
had numerous sets of plaster casts made from them which he
published with an 'Explanatory Catalogue' in 1841.
It is only now that the gems are appreciated
in their own right as fine examples of neoclassical gem
These 27 intaglios - carnelian, sardonyx and amethyst gems
carved to depict classical scenes and offered in a fitted case -
were offered at a jewellery sale at
Bonhams Bond Street on September 19 and sold at £20,000, the
lower end of their estimate.