A 19th-century woman - having just discovered her daughter's involvement in a scandalous event - reclines in her seat and reaches for her vinaigrette, flapping a fan rapidly before her face. A dashing gentleman carries the limp figure of a young lady to a sofa, setting her down gently and fetching a vinaigrette to revive her back to consciousness. Though these stereotypical scenes from Georgian and Victorian era novels might seem exaggerated, the vinaigrette really was a powerful tool to be produced in emotionally charged situations to restore the affected party back to their senses. But what, exactly, is a vinaigrette?...

A stunning Georgian acrostic vinaigrette pendant, designed as a gold book with six gems on the front spelling ‘Regard’ (ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, diamond). It is covered with floral and foliate motifs on the front and back and opens to reveal a hinged pierced grill. Above it is suspended a small heart pendant with a glazed locket back, c.1820 - From Hancocks, London via Instagram

What is a Vinaigrette?

While antique 'vinaigrettes' don't have much to do with the French dressing, they do have something to do with vinegar. Popular from the late-18th century through to the mid-19th century, vinaigrettes were small and often ornate containers used for holding scents. The aromatic substances used, like perfume, essential oils, and herbs were often dissolved in vinegar or alcohol.

Vinaigrettes were commonly used to prevent fainting or to offer reviving vapors to someone who had fainted. Some 'reviving' sponges were soaked only in vinegar, while others were pleasantly scented. Scented vinaigrettes were also widely used to mask unpleasant odors in the wearer's surroundings, as well as for perfume while travelling. Many believed that pleasant smells offered protection against diseases.

A gold Georgian vinaigrette, c.1820-40, with chased detail, piercing, and engine turned decoration.

From @charlotteantiquejewels via Instagram

An antique French gold and vermeil vinaigrette - From @julia_little_treasures via Instagram

Victorian Enamel Vinaigrette Pendant Necklace - From Lang Antiques

A Brief History of Vinaigrettes

Vinaigrettes are closely related to the much older 'Pomander' - scent bottles valued for their medicinal and protective powers. These were generally large, bejeweled or patterned, and often shaped like fruit.

An Italian 14th-century pomander in the shape of an apple, with four segments that would originally have held spices or perfumes. The inscriptions record the story of the Judgment of Paris in which Paris was required to choose which of the three goddesses, Juno, Venus, and Minerva was the most beautiful. The result of his choice set the Trojan War in motion. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A German 16th-century pomander engraved with attributes of Venus: amorini, forget-me-nots, roses, and gillyflowers (an emblem of fidelity). These alternate between three panels engraved with gods: Mars, his mother Juno with the peacock, and Venus with a heart in one hand and her son Cupid in the other. The pomander has six segments, labeled: Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Schlag (a composite of ambergris, musk, and civet- thought to be a remedy for stroke-like illnesses), Amber, Rosemary. - From Wartski

Scents were considered so important in warding off disease that people even carried in their hand vinegar-soaked pieces of sponge wrapped in orange peel for protection - Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII's advisor, was said to have been one such aromatic orange carrier. The Pomander and the aromatic orange were both eventually superseded by large 'pouncet boxes' and their variations (the sponge box, the smelling box, the essence box), which were then replaced in the Regency era by smaller 'aromatic vinegar boxes', later called 'Vinaigrettes'. These were often carried in a pocket or suspended from the waist.

During the 1770s, stronger and more intense kinds of aromatic vinegar were developed, meaning that the size of the containers used to carry them could be drastically reduced. By the late 18th-century, men and women had begun wearing vinaigrettes in unusual and exciting designs - suspended from chatelaines, placed in pockets, or worn as pendants, on bracelets, or on finger rings.

A fantastic Georgian scallop shell pendant, modeled in 3-color high carat gold. The back and front are decorated with turquoise and pearls, and the shell swivels open to reveal a tiny hair locket on one side, and a tiny vinaigrette on the other. - Antique Animal Jewelry

A rare Georgian Rococo 'objet de vertu' vinaigrette, with a body of striated gray agate fitted within a chased cagework of bloomed 15k gold, the interior with a pierced cover, and the bail in the form of a rope-weave handle, London, c.1760 - From @heartofhearts.jewels via Instagram and 1stdibs

French Object of Virtu: a Viniagrette c. 1780. A neoclassical urn carved from mother of pearl with 18-carat gold accents and two enameled ring-necked doves kissing on a branch. On white enamel around the lid reads, 'plutot mourir queue nous separens' - 'rather die than we separate'. The lid opens to a gold grille, which in turn opens to hold a scented cloth. Antique Animal Jewelry

An extremely rare antique vinaigrette snake ring in 18k yellow gold with enamel work and diamond eyes. A small compartment next to the snake's head opens to expose a vinaigrette.

From Lot-Art (Live Auctioneers)

Antique Georgian gold and enamel French vinaigrette pendant - From 1stdibs via Pinterest

Georgian hair mourning necklace with a vinaigrette pendant set with a large polished agate on both sides.

From Antique Jewellery Group via Ruby Lane

Antique jeweled ormolu (a gold-colored copper, zinc, and tin alloy) vinaigrette, c.1800s, with six round blue jewel stones, a central teardrop amethyst stone, and intricate filigree work.

Via Power of One Designs

Antique silver filigree vinaigrette ring, c.1800s - From Intuition Vintage via Etsy

Rare 1800s filigree flower basket vinaigrette - From @buybuybaby2020 via Instagram

A variety of unusually shaped Regency-era vinaigrette pendants, all in gold and set with turquoise: Horns, baskets, books, miniature letter-cases/envelope-shaped document cases symbolizing messages of love, a lyre with a vinaigrette compartment in the foot, a butterfly with two tiny compartments inside hinged wings, a loyal dog, etc., French, c.1810. - © The Trustees of the British Museum

Georgian pocketbook vinaigrette pendant, c.1820s. Modeled in 18k gold depicting roses, leaves, and a forget me not flower set with turquoise. The lid clicks open to reveal a pierced grill in the design of a basket full of flowers, with the scent-soaked sponge-like material lying beneath.

From The Three Graces

Georgian gold and champlevé enamel vinaigrette bracelet set with foil-backed stones (probably topaz or quartz). The bracelet has a central compartment that opens up to reveal pierced grillwork. Probably made in Switzerland, c.1820s. - Via PBS, Antiques Roadshow

An enamel vinaigrette depicting an Edenic scene - a bird of paradise above a serpent coiled around a tree. The reverse has a classic floral motif, the interior a chased grille with pomegranate. French, c.1820s

From @metierparis via Instagram

A Georgian vinaigrette pendant, given as a love token. Modeled in 14 karat gold and set with a large, faceted topaz. Two miniature charms hang from a chain: a key and a garnet heart - meaning 'you have the key to my heart.' The reverse is inscribed with the Arabic word, 'Azizaon', meaning it was given to a person as a sign of great affection, c.1820 - From Third Floor Antiques via Ruby Lane

A late Georgian Scottish citrine and gold vinaigrette, c.1820. The body is set with two faceted yellow citrines edged in gold which is heavily chased with a floral design and hinged at the back, opening to reveal a finely pierced gold grill. - From Hancocks, London via Instagram

A late-Georgian combination fob and vinaigrette, French, c.1820s-1830s. - Via Ruby Lane and Pinterest

A silver novelty acorn vinaigrette pendant, English, c.1820. From August September Antiques via Ruby Lane

A detailed gold vinaigrette with engine-turned covers on front and back, a repouseé-work chased border and bale, and an elaborate hand-pierced grille of giardinetto design, c.1825-30. From @ohmagpie via Instagram

A Georgian gold vinaigrette in the form of a purse bag, the front covered in cannetille decoration with two-color gold foliage and set with ruby and turquoise, the reverse with a bead star design on a stippled background. The interior reveals a simple pierced grille, c.1830. - From 1stdibs

A gold and enamel pendant vinaigrette painted with flowers on a turquoise background, Geneva, c.1835 ⁣

From @antiqueenamelcompany via Instagram

A vinaigrette pendant in the shape of an egg, in enameled 18k gold. French, c.1840.

From @loeildanthinea via Instagram

An early-Victorian acrostic heart-shaped vinaigrette pendant, the stones spell out 'REGARD' in ruby, emerald, garnet, aquamarine, ruby, and diamond. - Antique Animal Jewelry

A witches heart vinaigrette padlock pendant, French, c.1840. The padlock element works, and the front of the piece is encrusted with cabochon-cut pavé turquoise. It is hanging from two short ornate gold chains with matching turquoise cabochons and a half orb at the top. The back is finely engraved with flowers and leaves, and the heart opens to reveal a pierced vinaigrette grille with a motif of a bird and flowers.

From Laelius Antiques

A rare giardinetti vinaigrette ring in silver and 15k rose gold. Lapis lazuli lies beneath the giardinetti, which is set with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and rose-cut diamonds. On each side of the bezel, the gold engraved elements can be clicked outward. Hinged, the top lifts up to reveal a pierced decorative screen. Beneath it, a shallow compartment can hold the scent, c.1840 - From The Three Graces

A French bloomed and chased three-colour gold pendant vinaigrette on an engine-turned ground. The inside compartment has a pierced gold hinged cover in the form of a trophy of flaming hearts, arrows, and a quiver, c.1840 - © The Trustees of the British Museum

Antique gold and turquoise vinaigrette pendant in the shape of a book, English, c.1840

Via ALVR (A La Vieille Russie)

An early Victorian gold vinaigrette shaped as a satchel, the illusory flapped top lifts to reveal a protective hinged panel. This lifts yet again to reveal the final pierced grille, under which a perfumed sponge or cotton wad was placed. - From @karendeakin.antiques via Instagram

Believe it or not, this gold and silver brooch in the form of a hand holding a spray of forget-me-nots, set with turquoises and a small ruby with bell-shaped flowers in silver, is also a vinaigrette. The cuff at the base of the hand contains the subtle vinaigrette compartment, c.1850.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Castle top vinaigrette by Cronon & Wheeler in purse form, c.1852

From @antiqueenamelcompany via Instagram

A Victorian 18ct gold eagle vinaigrette locket, mounted with a shield-shaped bloodstone, c.1860

From Antique Jewellery Company

A rare novelty silver combined scent bottle and vinaigrette, made in the form of a telescope with attached chain and suspension ring. The middle of the outer body is covered in leather and the inner sleeve is made from bone. The vinaigrette is at the eyepiece end with a plain cover over a silver-gilt lift-out pierced grille. The scent bottle has a hinged cover engraved, 'Kittie'. By Thomas Johnson, London, 1868.

From @steppeshillfarm via Instagram

An early Victorian-era gold vinaigrette locket, crafted in 14K gold. Both the front and back have an engine-turned design with a repouseé-work chased border and bale, the front with a pearl halo and a compartment for gems or mementos, the back opening to reveal a floral motif grille.

From Alpha and Omega Vintage Jewelry via Ruby Lane

A Victorian vinaigrette pendant, featuring a meaningful hand-enameled floral bouquet of pansy, buttercup flower, and lilies set on a drop shape of natural lapis lazuli.

From @antiquevelvetgloves_jewellery via Instagram

A gold Victorian vinaigrette pendant in the form of a turtle with blue enamel shell, diamond legs, natural pearl head, and pink gemstone eyes, English, c.1870 - From @alavieillerussie via Instagram

A gold Victorian fob/vinaigrette with intricate granular details, set with amethysts, England, c.1880.

From Fable & Windsor via Ruby Lane

An extremely rare French silver-gilt and cranberry glass perfume bottle and vinaigrette in the shape of a pistol, suspended from a silver-gilt finger ring. The top unscrews for the scent while the handle features a pull-off cap to reveal the vinaigrette, c.1880 - From @antiqueenamelcompany via Instagram

Victorian novelty silver mussel shell vinaigrette with an elaborately pierced internal grille, made by Sampson Mordan & Co, London, 1883. - From Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Ltd

A late-Victorian French black enamel and openwork multipurpose reliquary/vinaigrette locket pendant.

From @zarafabrocantefrenchantiques via Instagram

An adorable mouse on a wicker basket charm, c.1890, with ruby eyes. The basket clips and hinges open so you can store a keepsake inside, or a scented cloth as a vinaigrette. - Antique Animal Jewelry

A Victorian sterling silver combined scent bottle and Vinaigrette in the form of a horn, with attached suspension chains. The horn's surface is finely embossed with birds and scrolling leaf motifs. The vinaigrette is in the larger end, which opens up to reveal a pierced grille. At the narrow end, there is a screw-off cover to a scent bottle. England, c.1890-1899 - Via 1stdibs

Antique Dog Fob whose perforated snout suggests he was once a vinaigrette. The base was sealed sometime in the past. Partial English hallmarks look to be for 1903-1904, and he is on a large bolt ring.

From @franziska_vintage_jewels via Instagram

For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.


In last week's blog, Cameos - Part I: 18th Century, we looked at the history of cameos, what they are, and the rise of cameos in 18th-century jewelry fashion. This week, we look at the heyday of cameos in European fashion as they flourished and reached peak demand in the 19th century.

A carved shell cameo suite of a necklace and five brooches. Two brooches show the Roman goddess Minerva and the other three illustrate scenes from classical mythology. The necklace depicts Bacchante, Juno, Minerva, Apollo, Mars, and Diana on large cameos and dancing figures on small ones. Italian carving, French goldwork and design, c.1840. Gift of the Misses Cornelia and Susan Dehon in memory of Mrs. Sidney Brooks - © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

While the 18th-century saw the start of the cameo-collecting craze, many were stowed away in collector’s cases and cabinets while comparatively few were mounted in jewelry and worn. When they were, they seemed to most often take the form of individual brooches, buttons, rings, and pins. By contrast, the 19th-century saw a strengthening in the fashion for wearable cameos, and they weren’t just worn as single delicate pieces, but en masse, in earrings, necklaces, tiaras, bracelets, and more.

A mid-19th century Italian necklace with five horizontal oval shell cameos of mythological scenes alternating with five smaller vertically set ovals containing cameos of classical women's busts in profile. Each piece is connected by small loops to rosettes which at one time had pendants. The metal around the bezel is stamped into an elaborate openwork high relief scroll design, probably gold.

Gift of Miss Elizabeth G. Norton - © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Earrings, a cruciform brooch, another brooch, a bracelet, and a necklace from a cameo and ruby parure depicting both Renaissance and classical scenes; from Roman Gods, to Hercules' 12 labors, to pastoral and domestic scenes, to The Sacrifice of Isaac. Turin, Italy, c.1824-29

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

A gold and shell cameo parure comprising a necklace, a pair of bracelets, a comb and diadem, and a pair of earrings, all set with shell cameos depicting classical and mythological scenes framed by three-tone floral and foliate motifs, c.1850s - From Sotheby's

Louis-Philippe era (King of France 1830-1848) cameo and gold parure

From @martindudaffoy via Instagram

Cameo parure from the Peabody Essex Museum c.1820 - from @dames_a_la_mode via Instagram

Left: A pair of gold earrings decorated with shell cameos of putti, Italy, c.1810-20. Jewels with portraits or sentimental symbols of love, such as butterflies, doves, and cupids, were always very popular. Right: Pair of earrings, carved malachite cameos of classical figures set in gold, Italy, c.1840-50

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Left: Pair of earrings, enameled gold set with paste cameos of classical female heads, probably English, c. 1865. Right: Pair of earrings with layered agate cameos of classical female heads: one is Omphale wearing the lion-skin of Hercules. They are surrounded by diamond sparks set in silver and surmounted by a pearl. These earrings were made by the Franco-German engraver Jean Georges Bissinger, France, c.1880-1900

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A bracelet with seven carved coral 'cameos', set in gold corded wire borders. c.1830

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Subject matters remained largely the same throughout the 18th and 19th centuries - depicting mythological heroes and events, important figures (both historical and contemporary), paintings, or biblical scenes - though profiles enjoyed increased popularity in the Victorian era. For many people, being able to recognize the source of a carving in a cameo was a mark of distinguished education, revealing in both the wearer and the identifier a deep knowledge of Classical art.

Magnificent, large, antique cameo brooch in 18k gold depicting a mythological baroque scene, after Guido Reni's Aurora, c.1870 - Via 1stdibs

A hinged bracelet with a Nicolo cameo, the chalcedony background stained black, depicting five putti: the central figure holding a horn, two holding birds, and the putto at the right restraining what appears to be a hunting dog. The goldwork with two decorative palmettes is inspired by ancient Greek design. Made by Tiffany & Co., c.1880 - © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Agate cameo brooch depicting the Birth of Venus with a diamond surround, probably Italian, c.1830-40

From Peter Szuhay

Italian gold brooch set with a malachite cameo of 'Night', a winged female bearing two sleeping children. After Bertel Thorvaldsen, c.1840 - © The Trustees of the British Museum

Pendant with a layered agate cameo depicting the head of Hercules, set in enameled gold with Columbian emeralds and a sapphire, England, c.1850, with the cameo made c.1800-1810

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

19th-century agate cameo brooch of Hercules set with diamonds, the brooch in silver and gold

From Peter Szuhay

A selection of onyx, sardonyx, and shell cameos in various 19th-century settings of gold, silver, and pearls: featuring several classical heads in profile, several helmeted warriors (Minerva of Aspasios in the center and possibly Mars above), Lord Nelson in classical style (bottom left), Bacchus (middle left), and Alexander the Great in classical style (bottom right) - © The Trustees of the British Museum

A pendant with a hardstone cameo of a classical male head surrounded by marcasites set in silver openwork and hung with pearls, possibly Switzerland, c.1810-20

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A pendant with a bloodstone cameo depicting the head of Christ, on the reverse is a bloodstone cameo depicting the Virgin Mary; set in a gold frame with cannetille (wire spiral) ornament. France, c. 1840.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pendant with a chalcedony cameo of Cleopatra, based on a classical type of a Bacchante with snakes, in a contemporary enameled gold frame with ribbon ties, Europe, c.1840-1900

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A gold ring with a Saxon agate cameo of Napoleon Bonaparte, c.1810, signed below the neck in Greek letters: ΛΜ (L.M.). These initials probably refer to Luigi Michelini, a pupil of Giuseppe Girometti who worked in Paris - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Gold brooch bordered with garnets and set with a resin 'cameo' of a full-length portrait of William Shakespeare holding a scroll and leaning on a column, England, c.1815

© The Trustees of the British Museum

A gold ring with an onyx cameo of George IV set into a faceted garnet, c.1820. The Royal goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, regularly supplied George IV with finger rings set with cameos and intaglios cut with his likeness. These were seemingly intended as gifts to the King’s favorites.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

A commemorative bracelet with a sardonyx cameo of Princess Charlotte of Wales (the only child of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick), depicted as a Roman empress with a diadem in her hair and an ancient-style necklace. She died in childbirth at the age of 21, in 1817. The gold mesh bracelet is decorated with cannetille and grainti gold ornamentation, c.1820

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

A brooch with a sardonyx cameo of jugate profile portraits of Georges I, II, III & IV, surrounded by a silver wreath of rose-cut diamond laurel and palm leaves surmounted by a crown, c.1820

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

A commemorative brooch/pendant with a sardonyx cameo of Frederick, Duke of York (George IV’s younger brother) posed heroically. The staining technique was developed in Idar, Germany, and the mount is gold, black enamel, and diamond-set in the form of an ouroboros, c.1827

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Jasper-agate cameo of double portrait profile heads of Henri IV of France and Marie de Medici set in an enameled gold setting, French, c.1870-1881 - © The Trustees of the British Museum

An agate cameo brooch supposedly of a German philosopher, the cameo c.1780, the frame possibly later, c.1820. The 18-carat gold frame is modeled as two snakes - Antique Animal Jewelry

Ancient Roman cameo in 19th century Italian gold work pendant, c.1860

From Peter Szuhay

A brooch with a c.1550-1650 agate cameo of a panther in a gold 19th-century setting, possibly Italy, c.1830

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Gold ring with a layered onyx cameo depicting a crouching cat in a 'Roman' setting, possibly made in England, c.1825. The cameo has been reset in a ring by the Reverence Chauncey Hare Townshend (1798-1868). Townshend was a poet and friends with Robert Southey, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, and Charles Dickens, and shared his interest in spiritualism and mesmerism.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This Garter badge (lesser George) with an agate cameo and diamond surround was probably made for George IV and was possibly worn by Queen Victoria as one of two Garter badges she frequently wore

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

The Popularity of Shell Cameos

In the 19th-century, shell cameos were all the rage. The hardstone and gemstone cameos that had colored the 18th-century were reduced to being a minority of the cameo market, as shell cameos were not only impressive and intricate but were more affordable and faster to produce. While hardstone cameos took months to create and required a specialty lathe with steel drills and wheels, shell cameos took only a handful of days and could be carved by hand, with a burin or engraving tool.

There were many advantages to shells like Cornelian shells which grew rapidly, offered up a range of orangey and pink hues, were softer and easier to carve, and had more colored layers and natural rises and falls from which to create complex and beautiful designs. Due to their affordability, they were donned by the wealthy elite and the wider public alike. They were also particularly prized by Grand Tourists wanting to bring back souvenirs from their travels. With the end of the French Revolution (in the late 1790s) and the associated revolutionary wars, it was finally safe to travel again to the Continent, creating an influx of British tourists to Europe's cultural capitals. The cameo industry in Europe boomed, especially in Italy.

A gold and shell cameo parure, Italian, probably Naples, mid-19th century. The parure consists of earrings, a necklace, and two bracelets (1 | 2). The cameos all bear typical Grand Tour images, including (on the necklace’s clasp) Guido Reni’s Aurora fresco of 1614, mythological scenes, peasants of the Roman campagna, and (on both the pin and the necklace) Bertel Thorvaldsen’s ever-popular marble relief Night of 1815. Billing doves grace the earrings, and on one of the bracelets are a comely marine divinity and a dolphin. The flimsy fittings of stamped gold filigree suggest this was costume jewelry, not meant to be worn often - Gift of Mrs. John D. Jones, 1899 - ©Metropolitan Museum

A cameo bracelet with four shell cameos carved in unusually high relief. Each one illustrates a mythological scene and is set in a decorative and shaped bezel, surrounded by a beaded metal wire and an openwork repeating design of stylized leaves separated by balls. Probably Italian, c.1860 The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Necklace with shell cameos mounted in gold, Italy, c.1810. The cameos in the necklace show subjects such as cupids, pairs of doves, and the altar of love. Jewels with portraits or symbols of love, such as butterflies, doves, and cupids, were very popular. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Necklace of shell cameos set in gold slips depicting scenes of wine and love, Italy, c.1800

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A sentimental brooch with five shell cameos featuring putti, pairs of doves, and the altar of love, mounted in gold, Italy, c.1810-20 - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Regency-era shell cameos loose from a broken antique necklace/collar and sensitively remounted as rings: Top left: an 18-carat gold cameo ring showing Cupid kissing a goat. Top middle: an 18-carat gold cameo ring of a Cherub in his chariot. Top right: an 18 and 22-carat gold cameo ring depicting Cupid and Psyche. Middle left, center, middle right, and bottom left: 4 camo rings depicting cherubs and dogs - love & fidelity (1 | 2 | 3 | 4). Bottom right: some of the rings together - Antique Animal Jewelry

Charming Victorian shell cameo earrings, c.1870, each cameo carved with a dove, the drops separated from the tops by a brown diamond - Antique Animal Jewelry

A Victorian shell cameo of a group of figures in a pearl surround frame

Via Lang Antiques

Gold-mounted conch shell cameo of Zeus-Serapis brooch, c.1840, with a locket back

From Peter Szuhay

Mid-19th century Italian brooch, the shell cameo set in gold in a bezel surrounded with an openwork wire and ball frame. The image shows a wingèd goddess strewing flowers with a cupid on her back carrying a torch. This is a conflation of Venus with her cupid and Victory with the upright lit torch which was a Renaissance interpretation of Flora. Since the pinback was a later addition and there are holes suitable for the attachment of several strands of beads, probably pearls, this was likely originally a bracelet or necklace Gift of Miss Elizabeth G. Norton - © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Brooch with a shell cameo of the Three Graces set in gold with garnets, England, c.1850

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Bracelet with a shell cameo of Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge (the 6th son of George III), made by G. G. Adams and based on a pencil drawing, c.1850-70. The cameo is set into an articulated gold matt bracelet with a silver centerpiece of diamonds, pearls, and a green enamel laurel wreath. The bracelet belonged to his wife, the Duchess - the laurel wreath symbolizing the triumph of love and the diamonds constancy. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

19th-century Italian brooch depicting a small bunch of five flowers including a jonquil and a tulip which emerge from multiple stems. Several different leaves are also part of the decoration Gift of Mrs. Grosvenor Calkins - © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

19th-century gold-filled shell cameo brooches of a woman seated under a tree reading a book, a woman in profile with a more elaborate frame, and a three-quarter view of a woman in a plain frame

From @theantiqueguild via Instagram

Queen Victoria herself is credited with making shelled cameos popular in the 19th century, wearing examples of her coveted shell cameo jewelry in official portraits. One such example is a Badge of the Order of Victoria and Albert worn by Victoria in a portrait, carved by Tommaso Saulini of Rome.

A Badge of the Order of Victoria and Albert (3rd class), c. 1864, made by Tommaso Saulini. The badge cameo shows the jugate heads of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in profile to the left. It is surrounded by a frame of pearls with four diamonds, surmounted by a gold crown set with rubies and emeralds. This badge is not Victoria's but is probably that of Elizabeth, Duchess of Wellington (d.1904), Mistress of the Robes, 1861-8 and 1874-80 - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

French Empire Cameos - The Bonapartes

Although the Napoleonic wars put Grand Tours on hold, cameos continued to enjoy enormous popularity through Napoleon's reach and influence. Napoléon Bonaparte was a cameo-lover through and through. With his desire to imbue his own reign with the illustriousness of Antiquity, setting neoclassical cameos into majestic pieces of contemporary jewelry was the perfect fashion for the French empire.

Napoléon wore a cameo to his own wedding, and after Empress Josephine wore a cameo-set suite to Napoléon's coronation in 1804, cameo-laden parures that included tiaras became fashionable among Napoleon's sisters and the ladies of his court. The fashion soon swept across Europe. Napoleon further promoted the art of cameo-making when he founded a school in Paris, which he populated with carvers from across Europe, to teach the art of cameo carving to young apprentices.

This prestigious pearl and cameo tiara was reputedly first made for Empress Joséphine, worn in the portrait on the left by her daughter Hortense de Beauharnais (via Wikimedia Commons). It was then gifted to Empress Joséphine's granddaughter - Josephine of Leuchtenberg - upon her death. The portraits on the right show Josephine of Leuchtenberg wearing the tiara as Princess of Sweden (through marriage), and later as Queen of Sweden (via Pinterest). The tiara has remained in the Swedish Bernadotte family ever since, and it has become a tradition for Bernadotte brides to wear the tiara on their wedding day.

Empress Joséphine's shell cameo diadem, presented to her by her brother-in-law, Joachim Murat. Gold, shell, mother-of-pearl, cameos, pearls, precious and semi-precious stones.

Photo via jewellermagazine.

Empress Joséphine's malachite cameo parure including a malachite cameo tiara, c.1810

From Chaumet - Chaumet in Majesty & Via thefrenchjewelrypost.com

Another of Empress Joséphine's cameo parures - From Chaumet - Empress Josephine

A rare gold bracelet cuff with agate cameos and pearl borders, the central cameo is supported by two floral motifs in yellow gold. The cameos depict three female profiles. The style matches the cameo tiara made by Nitot for Empress Josephine in 1811 following a commission from Napoleon. This bracelet was offered by Empress Josephine to the 'Bne de Lascours, born Givonne at the time of the departure of the Tuileries towards Malmaison.' - Via Maison Osenat

Pauline Bonaparte in her cameo parure

Via Grand Ladies, © National Portrait Gallery, London, and Château de Malmaison

Pauline Borghèse (Bonaparte)'s gold tiara comb set with sardonyx cameos, c.1803, made by Marie-Étienne Nitot & François Regnault Nitot - Via Wikimedia Commons

A gold and coral cameo parure with a brooch, necklace, earrings, bracelet, crown, c.1810-1812, belonging to Caroline Bonaparte (Napoleon Bonaparte's sister), Joachim Murat's wife and Queen of Naples. From the exhibition on Joachim Murat at Royal Palace of Naples, via Flikr

Lava Cameos

In the 19th century, a new type of cameo emerged - made of petrified lava from the archeological site of Pompeii. Grand Tourists went mad for these beautifully carved pieces of history from Pompeii itself, and owning mementos made from this prized material became a symbol of status, wealth, and education.

Pendant with a cameo of Flora, Southern Italy, c.1850-60. Limestone cameo set in gold. The stone was commonly described as petrified 'lava' - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Cameo of a female profile in lava - Via Lang Antiques

19th-century gold and lava set comprising a necklace, a bracelet, a pair of earrings, and a cross pendant. The cameos were made in Naples and then gold mounted in Dublin.

From @gioielleriapennisi via Instagram

Respected Names in 19th Century Cameo Jewelry

Given that Queen Victoria herself owned cameos carved by Tommaso Saulini of Rome, his became the name on everyone's lips with regard to 19th-century neoclassical jewelry. Through the English sculptor John Gibson (1790-1866) who lived in Rome, Saulini received frequent commissions for cameos from Queen Victoria in the years 1854-60. Alongside his, were other names like Castellani, Carlo Giuliano, and respected companies like Child & Child.

Badges of the Order of Victoria and Albert (1st class), cameos carved by Tommaso Saulini, each set by Garrard's, the royal jeweler, in a surround of diamonds surmounted by a crown set with rubies and emeralds and pinned to a white moiré ribbon. Left: a badge presented to Princess Helena by her mother, Queen Victoria, for her confirmation, c.1860-2. Middle: a badge bequeathed by Queen Victoria to her daughter, Beatrice, Princess Henry of Battenberg, c.1863. Right: a badge presented by Queen Victoria to Princess Alexandra of Denmark on the day before her wedding to the Prince of Wales, which the Princess wore on her wedding dress. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Cameos carved by Tommaso Saulini - the gold bracelet, c.1850s, is in archaeological style with applied scrolls of filigree and three onyx cameos of Medusa, Venus, and Hymen. The brooches are c.1860s featuring shell cameos of Roma (Minerva) and 'Dawn' (Aurora driving her biga) and another onyx cameo. The borders are 'filigree' enamel and beads and twisted-wire - © The Trustees of the British Museum

A gold brooch set with a shell cameo, carved by Tommaso Saulini, of the profile portrait head of the Prince of Wales with an engraved signature, made in Rome, c.1863

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Cameo brooch with gold scrollwork and a shell cameo of a naked youth - Ariel - with a large feather in his left hand, on the back of a flying bat - taken from Shakespeare's The Tempest (Act 5, Scene 1) and closely resembling a painting by Joseph Severn called On the Bat's Back I Do Fly, 1826. The cameo was probably made by the studio of Tommaso Saulini. England, c.1840 - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Onyx cameo profile portrait of Henry Somerset, 7th Duke of Beaufort, in a massive gold archaeological-style setting with multiple corded wire strands, wirework scrolls, and beading, Rome, c.1850. Engraved by Luigi Saulini, son of Tommaso Saulini who continued the family studio after his father's death.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

A mid-19th-century cameo parure carved by Luigi Saulini, son of Tommaso Saulini who continued the family studio after his father's death. The large stone in the tiara represents the toilet of Nausicaa, a rare subject even in ancient art. All but one of the other cameos copy ancient marbles. The bust in the brooch is of the Vatican's Apollo Belvedere. The three large stones in the necklace cite the statues Discobolus, Cupid and Psyche, and Cupid Stringing His Bow. The unsigned nude youth with a hoop and a paddle on the clasp is after a long-lost ancient intaglio Johann Joachim Winckelmann singled out in his Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture, published in 1755. ©The Metropolitan Museum

19th-century cameos from the workshop of Castellani: A bracelet with six openwork square gold links of nine compartments set with cabochon emeralds, rubies, and gold beads, alternating with six chalcedony cameos showing the heads of Roman Emperors, c.1860; a gold brooch with a sapphire cameo head of Medusa in a heavy ropework setting bordered with pearls, stopped at the outer edge with minute cabochon rubies; a necklace of carved classical figures - © The Trustees of the British Museum

To meet the growing demand for cameos, many European carvers set up shop in London, including the German carver William Schmidt, who produced cameos for top London jewelers like John Brogden. In fact, Schmidt was supposedly the first to carve cameos out of opal, which John Brogden reportedly displayed in the Paris Exhibition of 1878.

An opal cameo of a profile head of a helmeted warrior (Minerva?) set in enameled gold with a border of dots and fretwork pattern in white and blue enamel, flanked by silver leaves set with diamonds. Attributed to Wilhelm Schmidt, London, c.1900 - © The Trustees of the British Museum

A gold archeological-style parure comprising a necklace, earrings, and a bracelet, set with seven labradorite cameos depicting classical gods and heroes in gold ropework mounts. Made by A.Borgen & Co, Archaelogical Goldsmiths, the cameos attributed to Wilhelm Schmidt, c.1869-1879

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Shell cameo brooch and earrings by John Brogden, English, c.1870. The brooch is a Bull’s Mouth shell cameo of the Greek goddess Selene riding a serpentine dragon, in a frame of gold beading, twisted gold wire, and four gold palmette plaques placed at the cardinal points. The earrings also feature Bull’s Mouth shell cameos of Selene with a crescent-set headdress, the frames matching the brooch, with pendants of horizontal bars of gold beading and twisted gold wires suspending gold link chains graduated from the center and ending in conical gold elements - From Berganza

Left: Enamelled gold earrings set with layered agate cameos, imitating ancient masks. Right: Part of the same suite, a necklace in the archaeological style with layered agate cameos of antique masks. Both were designed by Mrs. Philip Newman, made by the firm of John Brogden, and shown at the International Exhibition, Paris in 1867 - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Revivalist Cameos

Throughout the 19th-century, jewelers worked in many historical styles, reviving periods past in new and exciting ways...

An Italian coral revivalist jewelry suite, c.1850s, including a necklace, brooch, and earrings. The carved coral elements of the necklace and brooch depict Bacchus, rams and female figures, and grapes, many of which are connected by delicate gold leaves and wirework. The earrings consist of a gold cresent shape with carved coral grapes at one end and a hanging coral vessel.

The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection - © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Etruscan revival jewelry came to popularity during the 1860s and 1870s. The Victorian imagination was captured by the archeological discoveries of Herculaneum and Pompeii, as well as Etruscan tombs on the Western coast of Italy full of treasures and fine jewelry. Lapis, malachite, and agates were all characteristic of Etruscan revival jewelry, and gold was worked in new ways using granulation and filigree in layered designs. This created a new wave of Etruscan revival agate cameos in fine, layered goldwork settings.

Etruscan revival pendant with an agate cameo of Christ and St John the Baptist, probably Rome, c.1880

From Peter Szuhay

Towards the end of the 19th century, fashion moved from classical subjects in cameos to a renewed interest in subjects from the Renaissance. The jeweler John Brogden was known for his Revivalist jewels, particularly Rennaissance Revival, and designers like Mrs. Philip Newman (Charlotte Newman) worked for him, creating jewels in that style. Georges Bissenger was a French gem-engraver of German birth also very well known for working in cameo in the Renaissance Revival style.

These pieces are part of a set evoking the Renaissance with their intricately sculpted gold frames set with pearls. This was probably one of the last sets of jewelry to be sold by the Paris jeweler François-Désiré Froment-Meurice before his death in 1855. Left: A pendant featuring a coral cameo of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine Middle: a brooch with a coral cameo of the Greek god Apollo, the patron god of music and poetry. Right: a brooch with a coral cameo of the Greek goddess Venus, the patron goddess of love.

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

An elaborate pendant harking back to the pendants of the Renaissance with colorful enameled gold frames and cameo portraits. This enameled and set with rubies, sapphires, and pearls, with an onyx cameo portrait of Marie de Medici by Georges Bissinger, setting by Carlo Giuliano, Britain, c.1865

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A necklace with an agate cameo of Elizabeth I. The cameo, carved by George Bissinger, is mounted in a laurel wreath border of leaf-carved emeralds, each separated by rows of rose-cut diamonds, designed by Mrs. Philip (Charlotte) Newman, c. 1890. The pendant hangs on a chain of alternating pearls and old mine-cut diamonds connected by gold links. The bail is set with three rose-cut diamonds.

Museum purchase with funds donated by Susan B. Kaplan - © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

This brooch holds a shell cameo of the young Queen Victoria. The design is based on a portrait of her in Garter Robes by Thomas Sully, 1838. The gold frame is decorated with enameled roses of Lancaster and York. The cameo was carved by Paul Lebas and mounted with gold, enameled, and set with emeralds and diamonds as a commesso made by Félix Dafrique, France, c.1851. Dafrique played a leading role in reviving the Renaissance fashion for commessi brooches - cameos decorated with enameled gold and jewels.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Cameos were highly prized in Georgian and Victorian-era Europe. Having been a valuable and fashionable part of ancient Roman society, the neoclassical movement seized upon these fine pieces of antiquity, reimagining them in the context of Georgian and Victorian jewelry. In this week's blog, we look specifically at the rise of cameos in 18th-century European jewelry.

An 18th-century clasp with an emerald cameo depicting the head of Medusa, mounted in an enameled gold clasp representing four interlaced serpents with three diamonds set into each of their heads.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

What is a Cameo?

Cameos are, in essence, relief carvings - many of which are considered to be highly skilled miniature sculptures or works of art. The technique of relief carving creates a layered effect, where figures and scenes seem to project outward from a background layer (often a layer of another color in the stone). In the 18th century, cameos were most often carved into hardstone or gemstone (like onyx, agate, amethyst, etc.), or glass. Shell cameos were more popular later on, in the 19th century.

A sardonyx neoclassical cameo in two strata, set in a gold ring, depicting a bust of Minerva, Italy, c.1780. Minerva, Goddess of war, known as Pallas Athena in Greek mythology, was one of the major deities, the daughter of Jupiter. She fights for just causes - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

An oval moss agate cameo of two strata, set in a gold ring, depicting the head of a camel, Italy, possibly 1670-1720. Cameos were prized and collected, sometimes as symbols of power, sometimes as objects for private devotion or enjoyment. The subject of this cameo is probably linked to a family crest or motif

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

18th-century onyx cameo of four masks conjoined; to right and left, a female and bearded male head; above, ram's head; below, second bearded male; all set in a gold ring

© The Trustees of the British Museum

A late 18th/early 19th-century onyx cameo brooch, an early work by Morelli, later owned by Caroline Bonaparte, younger sister of Napoleon I - Via Bonhams

A Brief History of Cameos

Based on prehistoric 'petroglyphs' (rock carvings documenting important iconography) cameos first really became popular in fashion and household items during the reign of Alexander the Great (356 BC - 323 BC). Ancient Roman cameos often sported images of mythological heroes and events, and important religious figures. They were also apparently sometimes worn by Hellenistic-era women to display a willingness to engage in 'lovemaking'.

One of the most famous stone cameos from Ancient Rome is this, the 'Gemma Claudia', a cameo in five layers made for the Emperor Claudius, thought to depict Emperor Claudius and his niece Agrippina on the left, whom he married, and her parents Germanicus and Agrippina on the right

©Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna

During the Renaissance, there was a renewed interest in classical art forms and many people became very interested in cameos. Pope Paul II (1417-1471) was known to be an avid collector of cameos depicting religious subjects, so avid in fact that it may have killed him - it's said that the many cameo rings he wore on his fingers 'kept his hands so cold that he caught the chill that meant his death'. The Pope’s prestigious collection was acquired by the Medici family after his death.

An onyx cameo depicting entry into the Ark: Noah extends his hand towards an angel; before him are five pairs of animals: lions, horses, goats, sheep and dogs; behind is the Ark, in which can be seen the head of an ox; a dove flies down before the gable, upon which is a cock; on the right corner stands a long-legged water-bird; above are an eagle(?) and other birds; on the right of the Ark stand Shem, Ham, and Japhet, behind whom are their wives with the wife of Noah. Italian, late 15th century, by Domenico dei Cammei

© The Trustees of the British Museum - the piece is associated with Lorenzo de' Medici

Cameos from the Medici Gem Collection, all ancient in 16th & 17th-century mounts - Left: sardonyx Hermaphroditus cameo from 1st century B.C. with gold, enamel, garnet, and emerald frame. Middle: sardonyx cameo bust of a bacchant or Dionysus from 1st century B.C. in a gold mount. Right: chalcedony cameo of Hercules holding a female figure's from 1st century B.C. framed in gold, silver, enamel, diamonds, and rubies (or garnets). - National Archeological Museum of Florence - via artfixdaily

By the 18th century, upper-class men and women were collecting impressive cameos and displaying them in their jewelry and on their clothing to signify their wealth, social status, and historical and cultural interests. George III's reign (1760-1820) saw a rise in neoclassical designs and a resurgence in the popularity of cameos. Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, and Marie Antionette, Queen of France and wife of Louis XVI, both also took an interest in cameos.

Portrait of Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher, 1758 - Via Flikr & Wikimedia Commons

An 18th-century antique cameo and ruby bracelet most likely sold to Marie Antoinette by Jean-Baptiste Mellerio in 1780. Set with seven cameos featuring Roman emperors, the bracelet bears witness to two features the queen particularly appreciated in jewelry: rubies and cameos - Via Sotheby's

A gold French bracelet set with a shell cameo and four pearls, c.1780 - via antiquejewel.com

Seed pearl bracelet with a cameo pendant, English, c.1780-1789 - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

18th-Century Cameo Jewelry

In a few rare cases, the cameos used in some pieces of 18th-century jewelry were actually ancient Roman examples, some of which were imported directly from the recently discovered archeological sites of Herculaneum (first excavated in the early 1700s and then majorly under the patronage of Charles III of Spain from 1738 onwards) and Pompeii (excavated later in the 18th century).

An 18th-century ring, set with a 3rd-2nd century BC Hellenistic onyx cameo of Ariadne, consort of Dionysos. She wears a wreath of ivy leaves and berries. Her hair is gathered in a roll at the back and ringlets cascade down her neck with a stray lock before the neck.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

This gold ring with an oval bezel holds a 1st century BC Roman layered agate cameo of a male head in a 'Roman' setting, mounted in an 18th-century ring, Western Europe, c.1725-1775

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A Medieval hardstone cameo, probably from Southern Italy or Sicily, c.1260-1280, in a silver pin c.1800. Medieval cameos are very rare; the few medieval carvers active in the 15th-century were copying ancient Roman gems, with various degree of success. For similar examples see Hohenstaufen gems.

From Peter Szuhay

It was more often the case that carvers and craftsmen, inspired by the archeological finds, made cameos from scratch with the stories and figures of antiquity in mind, or with famous figures, paintings, sculptures, portraits, or biblical scenes as inspiration. Early Grand Tour-goers made a habit of bringing back cameos from the workshops of Italy and beyond. Because of the historical and cultural content of many of the carvings, cameos were considered 'intellectual', and were a very respectable form of jewelry to wear. By the mid-18th century, carvers started signing their cameos, to distinguish them as modern, highly-skilled works of art that were different from the antique ones being sold by dealers.

A 16th-century oyster shell cameo, possibly German, with a slate backing, depicting Judith with a sword, in profile to the right, holding up the severed head of Holofernes. The 18th-century silver scrollwork frame is set with alternating foiled almandine garnets and amethysts in closed settings

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

A late 18th-century cameo and paste buckle, the oval shell cameo depicting the education of Cupid, within a border of geometric design, to a further border set with foiled red and colorless cushion-shaped pastes in closed-back settings - Via Bonhams

18th-century enameled gold and cameo brooch of Hermes and Cupid, c.1790 - From Peter Szuhay

Left: A French shell cameo of Venus in a chariot amid clouds near two doves billing, c.1750. Middle: An English onyx layered agate cameo depicting Achilles mourning for Patroclus, possibly by Edward Burch, c. 1775-1810. Right: An Italian layered agate cameo depicting Hercules carrying the Cretan bull, c.1740-70

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Left: An 18th-century onyx and carnelian-backed cameo depicting the winged figure of Victory holding a palm leaf in her left hand and a laurel wreath in her right. Middle: A 16th-century onyx cameo in an 18th-century mount depicting Medusa with wings and snakes in her hair. Right: An 18th-century onyx cameo of Dionysus, the god of wine, dancing. The figure is derived from a Roman gem, but the elongated neoclassical style and the paint on the reverse to darken the ground indicates its 18th-century date.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Left: A 16th-century onyx cameo in an 18th-century mount, depicting Amphitrite, a sea goddess, and a cupid riding on dolphins in a wavy sea. The scene is derived from Roman reliefs and was very popular in Renaissance Italy. Middle: A 17th-century onyx cameo in an 18th-century ring depicting jugate busts of Omphale (Queen of the Kingdom of Lydia), and her husband, the warrior and hero Hercules. Omphale wears the lion skin over her head and shoulders. Right: An 16th-century onyx cameo in an 18th-century mount of Mars and Venus, beneath a tree, probably based on a bronze medal

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Left: 18th-century Italian onyx cameo depicting Cupid and Psyche; Psyche with her arm about Cupid's neck, in a gold ring, engraved by Alessandro Cades. Right: 18th-century Italian onyx cameo depicting Diomedes holding the Palladium in his left and sword in right, the head and arm of a prostrate watchman at his feet; in a gold ring, engraved by Giuseppe Girometti - © The Trustees of the British Museum

Left: A late 16th-century agate cameo in an 18th-century mount depicting a young woman wearing a tunic, in high relief, her wavy hair swept back beneath a wreath of leaves and fruit. This beauty may be Proserpine, a Roman goddess of seasonal resurrection, following an image based on Roman prototypes. Right: A 16th-century onyx cameo in an 18th-century mount depicting a woman in scanty drapery with an elaborate hairstyle and a snake over her left shoulder - the snake suggests she is Cleopatra

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Late 18th-century gold brooch set with a sardonyx cameo of the head of a Bacchante in profile, engraved with Greek characters, made by Antonio Pazzaglia - © The Trustees of the British Museum

Left: Large, three-layered cameo of Apollo, probably Italian, c.1790-1800, in the original gold frame. Right: Onyx three-layered cameo of Diana, probably Italian, c.1790-1800, in original setting.

Both from Peter Szuhay

Agate cameo stickpin of Apollo in a high-carat gold setting, c.1780 - likely a Grand Tour souvenir

From Peter Szuhay

18th-century amethyst cameo of the bust of Niobe looking to the right, in a gold ring with a ridged hoop

© The Trustees of the British Museum

16th-century shell cameo of three jugate busts in an 18-century gold frame

From Peter Szuhay

A gold ring with an oval bezel holding a layered agate triplet cameo of Theseus and the slain Minotaur in a 'Roman setting', signed with greek initials 'IP' for Giovanni (Johann Anton) Pichler (1734-1791) with forked and foliated shoulders, Italy, c.1760. The cameo is based on a Greek gem by Philemon in the former Imperial collections in Vienna, which was well known in the 18th century. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

An Italian onyx cameo ring showing the seated figures of Pan and a satyr blowing a horn, c.16thC-18thC

© The Trustees of the British Museum

A 16th-century onyx cameo in an 18th-century mount of a screaming Fury, a wing in her curly hair. The figure is after the ‘terrible’ heads of the Italian Renaissance and is based on a drawing by Michelangelo, titled Anima Dannata - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

16th-century onyx cameos of the popularly depicted Bacchic mask with vine-wreath and grapes in hair; mounted in a gold ring, each with six small projections on the bezel and gadrooning on the back

© The Trustees of the British Museum (1 | 2 | 3)

A late 16th-century sardonyx cameo depicting the Fall: the Tree of Knowledge with the serpent in the center, Adam and Eve in front. Eve is giving the apple to Adam; a pair of mating dogs is between them, and they are flanked by further animals and two trees. The cameo is set in an 18th-century mount and openwork frame set with rose-cut diamonds in silver, Burmese rubies, emeralds (with colorless glass, green paste, and almandine garnet replacements) in closed foliate settings Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

This is an 18th-century Italian cameo made of a glass paste in a gold oval frame, representing 'Joseph and his brethren'. The cameo is identical to a piece in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, said to be from the 13th or 14th century - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A late 16th-century cowrie shell cameo of a Roman emperor, possibly Vespasian (AD 9-79), with slate backing. The figure has a fillet in his hair and a braided border runs along the neckline. The cameo is set in an early 18th-century openwork mount of silver-gilt with foiled gemstones (emerald, amethyst, ruby, sapphire, almandine garnet, green paste, hessonite garnet, and topaz). The cameo probably belonged to a series of Twelve Caesars, a frequent subject for cameos of the 16th century.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

A 16th-century sardonyx cameo in an 18th-century frame with a laureate bust of a curly-haired, bearded Roman emperor wearing a cuirass and a mantle fastened over his left shoulder with a round clasp. He may be Septimius Severus (AD 146-211). The openwork scroll frame is set with four very pale rubies and three emeralds in closed gold settings and two rose-cut diamonds in silver settings

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Left: An 18th-century ring with a 17th-century sardonyx cameo of a Roman emperor, probably Septimius Severus (AD 146-211), based on Roman coins or medals. Middle: A 16th-century Saxon onyx cameo of the Roman general Sextus Pompeius Magnus, mounted in an 18th-century setting. Right: An 18th-century onyx cameo ring of triple jugate heads in profile to the left: a laureate Roman emperor in front with two female heads behind, possibly Tiberius (42 BC-AD 37), with Livia (58 BC-AD 29), and another.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

18th-century onyx cameo of the head of Socrates looking to the left, set in a gold ring

© The Trustees of the British Museum

A 16th-century sardonyx cameo of a bust of Queen Elizabeth I, in an 18th-century mount. The sheer number of Tudor portrait cameos representing Elizabeth I suggest that there was a special court workshop for creating them. The cameos were principally used as presents to foreign monarchs or loyal servants. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

An 18th-century onyx cameo of a laureate bust of George II (1683-1760) set in an 18th-century ring with fluted shank and closed bezel. He wears a classical cuirass with a lion’s mask epaulette and a mantle.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

18th-century agate cameo ring depicting Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, surrounded in the roccoco splendour of 46 rose-cut diamonds and eight rubies in the crow. French, c.1774 - via antiquejewel.com

This English 18th-century bloodstone cameo with glass paste reliefs represents George III (1760-1820) on one side and Queen Charlotte on the reverse, his Queen Consort ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

An 18th-century oval bloodstone brooch mounted with a tassie cameo of Queen Charlotte within a gold ouroboros border, by John Kirk - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Reinventing the Cameo

In the late 18th century, carvers realized that they could use Plaster of Paris molds to perfectly copy and recreate antique cameos and collections in other materials. The Scottish gem engraver James Tassie began doing this, creating elaborate glass paste cameo copies and copies in red sulfur, while the English potter, entrepreneur, and abolitionist Josiah Wedgwood made cameos in his own distinctive jasperware ceramics - often featuring figures in white against a bright powder-blue background.

Left: A cameo brooch by James Tassie depicting Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon (1743 - 1827), Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland - Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Middle & Right: two 18th-century James Tassie portrait medallions - The Met (1 | 2)

Left: 99 cameos in a wooden tray. From a collection of casts from gems by James Tassie, in late 18th century England. Middle: an oval red sulfur Tassie cameo of a female figure (Venus/Aphrodite) holding a large piece of fabric behind her, seated on a large ram riding above water, Pandemos a small putti to the left. Right: an oval red sulfur Tassie cameo of three full-length nude figures wrestling with snakes; Lacoon/Laokoon and his sons. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Left: A Roman layered onyx cameo, 50–25 B.C, depicting the wedding of Cupid and Psyche. Inscribed in Greek: 'made by Tryphon'. Right: A black & white photo of a jasperware Wedgwood & Bentley copy in white relief on a blue ground - Both: ©Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Left: A Wedgwood factory blue and white jasperware cameo mimicking the effect of a classical carved cameo shell. The cameo depicts a muse playing the lyre on a pedestal, a shield with a profile portrait, and a winged youth (the genius?) leaning on a long, straight trumpet, c.1780-1800. Middle & Right: - A neoclassical ring set with a Wedgwood factory blue and white jasperware medallion showing a seated youth and a standing girl, with forked shoulders, with a central leaf motif

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A Wedgwood belt clasp with a jasperware cameo of a woman making a sacrifice. These cameos showing sacrificing priestesses were designed by Lady Templetown and Miss Crew for Josiah Wedgwood's factory. Mounted in cut steel frames with Matthew Boulton's faceted steel studs, c.1780-1800

Via art.thewalters.org

Wedgwood factory cameo pieces in deep blue and white jasperware, c.1780-1795 © The Trustees of the British Museum

A chatelaine set with a blue jasperware and white relief cameo of a seated woman mourning beside a torso and helm. Also set with jasperware beads, cut-steel beads, and pendants, Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd., Etruria, c.1780-1800 - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A steel dress sword with a leather scabbard. Hilt decorated with cut steel beads (Boulton) and blue jasper medallions (Wedgwood) - Via National Museums Liverpool and © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Keep your eyes peeled for Part II, where we will be looking at 19th-century cameos...

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