- Material: Sardonyx Shell, 18K gold tested.
- Size: 3" by 2 6/8".
- Date and Origin: 1830/1840 France. Scratched by the artist, I'm not able to read well his name, it could be Revebony or Rerebony.
- Conditions: Mint.
- Original Fitted Box.
More than Museum Quality cameo and more than rare subject depicting a theatrical scene from the Mithridate by Jean Racine. The cameo, as you can see, bears an inscription on its bottom "MONIME" that is not, as one could think, the name of the carver, but instead it is the name of one of the main character of the play. The woman sitting on a chair is Monime.
To understand the scene carved on the cameo we have to have a quick look at the tragedy by Racine, the Mithridate was first performed at Versailles in 1674. It centres on the death of Mithridates, king of Pontus and inveterate enemy of Rome. On the point of launching an invasion of Rome, Mithridate is betrayed by his son Pharnace and reduced to heroic suicide. Before this he has also been at odds with his younger son Xipharès, his rival for the hand of the princess Monime. The young lovers are finally united and vow to carry on Mithridate's struggle. The king appears as a cruel yet pathetic figure, reduced from glory to military impotence and humiliating jealousy, but Racine allows him to go out in glory. The play was a favourite with Louis XIV. The scene carved on the cameo is one of last scenes of the tragedy. Romans attack the palace. Arcas, a domestic of Mithridate brings to Monime some poison so that she commits suicide … Phoedime, a friend of her, implores her to not take the poison but a counter order arrives: Mithridate, who sees itself defeated, has just decided to take some poison and forgiving Monime and Xipharès. I have spent days and nights to find which was the rare subject of this cameo. There is a painting too from ABEL de PUJOL Alexandre Denis (1787/1861), a French painter, titled MONIME FEMME DE MITHRIDATE RECEVANT LE POISON QUE LUI ENVOIE SON EPOUX (Monime woman of Mithridate, receives the poison that he sent her), the painting is in the Museum of Troyes (France). Look at the details of the scene, all the muscles of the men's legs are shown. They are so real. From this you can understand the skill of the carver. Undoubtedly a master carver. This is, with no doubt, the most rare cameo I have ever handled and one of most beautiful ones. 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:Jean Racine, 1639–1711. Born of a family of provincial fiscal officers, he was given an extensive education by pious relatives, including three years at the Jansenist school at Port Royal. Despite his relatives' plans for his legal career, he sought to make his way in Paris as a writer. In 1664 his first tragedy established him as a noted literary figure. After Phèdre (1676) he ceased writing secular drama and also renounced his youthful dissipations; he was already heavily subsidized by the court and soon after became one of Louis XIV's official historians.