Cameos and Coin Jewelry

Cameos and Coin Jewelry

Cameo is a method of carving an object such as an engraved gem, item of jewelry or vessel made in this manner. It nearly always features a raised (positive) relief image; contrast with intaglio, which has a negative image. Cameos are often worn as jewelry, but in ancient times were mainly used for signet rings, although the largest examples were probably too large for this, and were just admired as objets d’art. Stone cameos of great artistry were made in Greece dating back as far as the 3rd century BC. The Farnese Tazza (a cup) is the oldest major Hellenistic piece surviving. They were very popular in Ancient Rome, especially in the family circle of Augustus. The most famous stone “state cameos” from this period are the Gemma Augustea, the Gemma Claudia made for the Emperor Claudius, and the largest flat engraved gem known from antiquity, the Great Cameo of France. The technique has since enjoyed periodic revivals, notably in the early Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Neoclassical revival began in France with Napoleon’s support of the glyptic arts, and even his coronation crown was decorated with cameos. In Britain, this revival first occurred during King George III’s reign, and his granddaughter, Queen Victoria, was a major proponent of the cameo trend, to the extent that they would become mass produced by the second half of the 19th century. The visual art form of the cameo has even inspired at least one writer of more recent times, the 19th-century Russian poet Lev Mei, who composed a cycle of six poems entitled Камеи (Cameos, 1861), as reflections on each of the Roman rulers from Julius Caesar to Nero. In 1852 Théophile Gautier titled a collection of his highly polished, lapidary poems Emaux et Camées (Enamels and Cameos).

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