- Material: Sardonyx Shell, silver.
- Size: 2 1/2" by 2 1/8 ".
- Date and Origin: Circa 1850 Italy.
- Conditions: Excellent, a stress line starting from circa 12:00 o'clock terminates just close Madonna's shoulder (right cameo side) barely visible from the front when looking at the cameo by naked eye, silver is a bit tarnished on back.
Museum Quality cameo depicting the Madonna with Child. This is an extremely rare subject, so are that I have not yet identified the artwork where this subject is from. It seems to me like a painting of Raphael or Botticelli, that is the style. Everything in this cameo speaks about love, joy, poetry. Look at the Virgin expression which is pure love and adoration for her Child, look at how she keeps her hand clasped in prayer, it is amazing. Even the smallest detail of this cameo was perfectly rendered. The Child is something of beautiful, look at how his sleeping is peaceful and serene, look at His round body which is so tender and sweet. His little hand abandoned on the Madonna's leg just gives the impression of a total quietude of Him as He feels safe standing on His mother's womb. Even the Madonna clothes are spectacular, the details on her neckline dress and the veil which turns around her becoming a cover for her Child. I really I'm speechless looking at this beauty. A true artwork. A piece to collect and especially for the ones who collect religious subjects.
Her name was Mary, a form of the name Miriam, the famous sister of Moses. The name was common among Jewish women in those days. A well-known tradition says she was born in Jerusalem, the daughter of Joachim and Ann. Other early sources say Mary was born in Nazareth. There is even an ancient record that points to Sepphoris, a town a few miles from Nazareth, as her birthplace.
The Jews there were a strong, robust people. The hill climate was dry and healthful. They learned you must depend on God always. Mary was a woman of rural Galilee. She lived as they did, in a small family house of stone and mud-brick. Almost daily she carried a large jar of water from the town well for washing and cooking (the well still supplies modern Nazareth today and is called "Mary's Well"). Early on, the Jews found that cleanliness prevented disease, so frequent washing -- an important chore of women -- became part of their religious practice. The well also was a favorite spot where women talked and traded bits of everyday news. The people of Nazareth had a strong Jewish faith. As God's chosen people, descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jews believed this land was theirs, given to their ancestors whom Moses led out of Egypt. They knew by heart the deeds of kings like David and Solomon and the words of prophets like Isaiah and Elijah. Even though the Romans, with Herod's family as their puppets, now occupied Palestine, the Jews of Galilee believed God would someday send a Messiah who would free Israel from her enemies. They lived in a war-torn land. For centuries before the Roman occupation, conquering armies of Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians and Greeks fought over Palestine. Despite their wars, revolts and riots, the Jews remained a subject people -- taxed, bullied and despised by succeeding rulers. Like their compatriots, the Jews of Nazareth were never far from the dangers of political violence. During the Jewish uprisings in Galilee around 6 A.D. -- when Jesus was a child -- Roman legions captured the city of Sepphoris, sold all its inhabitants into slavery and burned the city to the ground. Mary's faith was strong. Yet, in fervently religious Nazareth with its high moral standards, she hardly stood out at all, even in the eyes of those who knew her best. Besides, as a woman living in a society where men counted most, she would be little noticed except as a mother and a wife. When she was 15 or so, Mary's parents made plans for her to be married, as was customary in those days. They chose Joseph of Nazareth, a carpenter, for her husband. The engagement took place and Mary returned home to wait about a year before she would go to live with her husband as his wife. But then, something happened:
"The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. He went in and said to her, 'Rejoice, so highly favored! The Lord is with you.' "She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, 'Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God's favor. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a Son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob forever and his reign will have no end.' "Mary said to the angel, 'How can this come about, since I am a virgin?' 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you,' the angel answered, 'and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.' 'I am the handmaid of the Lord,' said Mary. 'Let what you have said be done to me.' "And the angel left her." (Luke 1:26-38)
The Gospels, compiled years after these events at Nazareth, tell the story of Jesus and recall Mary only incidentally. True, St. Luke's account sees Mary favored by God, the Lord's handmaid, a model believer. His story describes her fear and perplexity, her faith and acceptance during the angel's visit. But still, we are left to ourselves to imagine Mary's life and her experience when the angel left her. The angel's message struck like lightning, changing everything for her. Immense joy filled the young girl's soul when she conceived the child by the power of the Holy Spirit. But when the angel left, Mary was alone. Nazareth certainly was unaware of the angel's visit. The Word of God was made flesh, but the people of Nazareth saw nothing changed. In their eyes, Mary was still a young girl of 16, espoused to Joseph the carpenter. Once the angel left, Mary faced some troubling questions with only faith to guide her. What about her marriage to Joseph? Since she was bearing a child that was not his, Mary had to face the anguishing prospect of divorce and the shame it could bring down upon her in a small town that frowned on an unfaithful wife. Even though he had a high regard for her, how could she explain to Joseph the mysterious act of God and an angel no one else saw? The threat was removed when the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son and you must name him Jesus." When Joseph woke, he took Mary as his wife to his home. Together they would do what God would have them do. Finally her own Son was born.
"Now at that time Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken. This census -- the first -- took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and traveled up to Judea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David's House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a Son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. "In the countryside close by, there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terrified, but the angel said, 'Do not be afraid. Listen! I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.' "And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace to all who enjoy his favor.
"Now when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.' So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:1-20)
After the birth of Jesus, according to St. Luke's Gospel, Mary and Joseph fulfilled what Jewish law customarily required when a child was born. Eight days later, they had the child circumcised and gave him the name Jesus. After forty days, they took him to the temple at Jerusalem to consecrate him to God. There, the old man Simeon and the old woman Anna recognized the child's extraordinary mission. Taking him into his arms, Simeon said to Mary his mother: "You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected -- and a sword shall pierce your own soul, too -- so that the secrets of many hearts may be laid bare." Then they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Saint Matthew, however, describes less tranquil circumstances following the birth of Christ. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Magi from the east arrived to pay him homage, guided by a star. Seeking information of the child's whereabouts from King Herod, they were directed to Bethlehem, where they found Jesus with Mary his mother. They offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then, warned of Herod's purpose to kill the child, they departed quickly for their own country by another way. "Rise, take the child and his mother," the angel says to Joseph. "Flee to Egypt and stay there till I tell you." Safe in Mary's arms, Jesus is taken into Egypt where he escapes Herod's massacre of the innocent children of Bethlehem. When, at the angel's command, the child returns to his own land, he has relived the ancient journey of Israel -- the Exodus. Both Matthew and Luke suddenly end their accounts of Jesus' early days when he settles with his family at Nazareth. Except for St. Luke's story of the pilgrimage of the boy Jesus to Jerusalem, the Gospels are silent about Jesus and Mary until his public life begins. His long years at Nazareth are called his "hidden life," the years he grew in "wisdom and age and grace," his years with Mary and Joseph. Nazareth was his first and only school; Mary and Joseph his principal teachers. From them, the Son of God made-man learned to speak his first words, in the accent of Galilee. They acquainted him with the ways of the village and the ways of the human heart. Before anyone else, he listened to and learned from Joseph and Mary. Joseph's death, some years before Jesus' public ministry, left Mary a widow, depending more than ever on her Son for support. Devoted to him, she knew he had a mysterious, divine role. Yet, in those long years at Nazareth she had no heavenly signs to go by. No angel spoke to her; no witnesses came forward to explain anything more of the child's destiny. At Nazareth Jesus was her faithful Son, working at his trade, following the seasons and the harvests, hardly noticed by his neighbors and relatives. And Mary was his mother. When he was about thirty, Jesus left Nazareth to stay for awhile in the desert of Judea near the River Jordan where John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing. People said that a prophet had arisen in Israel and that God was speaking in that lonely place. As she watched her Son go, Mary sensed that the long years of silence were coming to an end.
"Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John...After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the good news from God. 'The time has come,' he said, 'and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the good news.'" (Mk 1:9, 14-15)
He preached in the synagogues around Capernaum on the Lake of Galilee, healing the sick and driving out evil spirits from those who were afflicted. Great crowds flocked to him. But when he went up to Nazareth, he was rejected. "Where did this man get all this?" they said when he spoke in their synagogue. "Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary...?" "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own relations and in his own house," Jesus replied, amazed at their lack of faith. He left Nazareth and never returned there again. "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother's sister, Mary, wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala." (Jn 19:25) We can hardly guess how Mary experienced the tragic days when they arrested and crucified her Son. Tradition says she stood on the road as Jesus passed by carrying his cross. When all his disciples fled, she remained with him. Helpless to do anything else, she watched her dying Son and offered her love. When he died, they took him down from the cross and placed him in her arms. She held him gently, her child of long ago. She was one of those who saw him risen from the dead. Her cries of grief turned into cries of joy as she waited in prayer with the apostles for the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to send them. As the mother of Jesus, Mary had a special place among his followers, strengthening their faith through her own. From his cross, Jesus gave her to his church as a mother for all ages. We do not know for sure the place or circumstances of Mary's death. One strong tradition attests that she died in Jerusalem. Another tradition points to the city of Ephesus, where she is said to have lived for awhile with the apostle John.