- Material: Lava, 15K gold tested .
- Size: 2 5/8” by 2 1/8” only cameo is 2” by 1 5/8”.
- Date and Origin: Ca 1840, Italy, frame could be English.
- Conditions: A tiniest, minuscule chip at the end of the right wing, really not noticeable by naked eye and so minuscule that can be barely seen through a loupe or looking at the enlarged pictures, otherwise mint.
More than museum quality lava cameo depicting the Gorgon Medusa. This one is a once in a lifetime piece, I can easily compare it with the Athena which I have at the entrance of my website or with the fabulous ivory piece of the Allegory of Innocence or again with that amazing artwork which was the Centaur Chiron and Achilles. This cameo has the peculiarity to be a double color one. Never seen before now. It is not the stone that has two different colors , the color difference was created painting the stone. Athena transformed the wonderful hair of Medusa in dirty snakes, this is, in my opinion, what the carver wanted to symbolize making the snakes darker than the rest of cameo. Even the darker spots of her face are a wanted effect because the snakes were dirty and soiled everything they touched and moving around the face and head of Medusa they soiled them making the Gorgon even more terrifying. I think that the carver was also inspired by the painting of the head of Medusa made by Caravaggio in 1598, look at the picture at the bottom of this page. Look what the carving is, impressive, even her teeth and her tongue are visible. Her expression is something of incredible, so desperate for her terrible aspect, a thing impossible to accept for a woman once beautiful. A rarest subject masterly executed. There is a glazed compartment on the back filled with amazingly arranged hair. It is not the usual lock of hair which can be usually found behind a cameo. There are three different locks of hair, three pearls and three corn-ears, everything arranged not randomly but in a such way to represent a Fleur de Lys which is the symbol of purity and chastity. The pearl is the symbol of love and purity, corn-ears, instead is a symbol of prosperity, abundance and wealth. "The spirit of grain" is the mythical explanation of the mystery contained in the continuous renewal of life, present in all agricultural societies since prehistoric times, through ancient Egypt, the Aztecs etc. While we are certainly in England where the cameo was mounted and glazed, the original meanings can be several ones. In fact far from 1600 in England and Scotland in a traditional song, released in several versions, a popular character, John Barleycorn is the personification of the spirit of the grain. In it converge myths, superstitious beliefs and customs from the dawn of civilization, customs that were followed in England until the early decades of the 1900's. Three is the perfect number. Three ears-corn, three men, three kings. Three are the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth which guaranteed the perpetuation of the cycle of life, which give a new beginning to the human race after the purification of the universal flood. Three early humans. Adam, Cain and Abel. Three kings or three tribal leaders of Israel. More importantly the number three symbolizes the holy trinity, father, son and holy spirit. In this case the locks of hair can be of three children or of a family and may be the cameo could belong to the mother or to her daughter. The symbols in the back can also mean the hope of continuing life without family separation. So it is not a mourning symbol, but it was used in the families with many children where mother used to wear a jewel containing locks of hair of her own children of different ages as a symbol of luck. Luck because in the Victorian era having many children was considered a blessing but on the other hand it was very difficult to raise them up because wealthy families were rare to find and for this reason it was used to add golden ears-corn which symbolized richness and abundance for the future of the family and of their own children. Again even the Medusa as a cameo subject could have a special meaning for the people who had it made. This subject is amazing, she SPEAKS! This is one of most beautiful cameos I have ever seen, the pictures speak by themselves. This is another masterly carved cameo. A very desirable collectors piece, rare and museum quality cameo.
A bit of History:
Medusa is a character of Greek's mythology, she was one of three Gorgons, the only one that was mortal. Poseidon fell in love with Medusa and one night he took her in a temple consecrated to Athena to consummate their love. Athena offended, transformed Medusa's hair into snakes and again everyone that had looked Medusa's eyes would have been petrified. Medusa was killed by Perseus who cut her head looking at her through a bright shield received from Athena. From Medusa's body came out Pegasus, the mythic winged horse, and Crisaore generated with the union with Poseidon. For this reason Medusa's head was given by Perseus to Athena who put it in the center of her aegis. Aegis used by Athena, is a fringed armour or a shield with Medusa's head in the center.