• Antique Animal Jewelry

Cameos - Part 2: 19th Century

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.


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