Rarest Cameo of Iris after Guy Head painting
 
 
“Iris Carrying the Water of the River Styx to Olympus for the Gods to Swear By”
 
  • Material: Sardonyx Shell, 15 k gold tested.
  • Size: 2 3/8" by 2" only cameo is 2 1/8" by 1 6/8"
  • Date and Origin: Circa 1860 Italy.
  • Conditions: Pristine, a couple of natural shell lines only barely visible when cameo is backlit. A small trace of soldering on the back of the frame.


Museum quality cameo depicting a rarest subject, she’s Iris who, in Greek mythology, is the personification of the rainbow and messenger of the gods. This subject is after a painting, “Iris Carrying the Water of the River Styx to Olympus for the Gods to Swear By” circa 1793, by Guy Head (1760/1800) a British painter enrolled at the Royal Academy schools in 1778, and over the next few years he exhibited a variety of works in London.In 1785, Head moved to Amsterdam where he painted portraits for the Hope family of merchants; he subsequently moved to Italy. In 1787, Head was elected to the academy at Florence and the following year he settled in Rome. He stayed for eleven years, establishing a successful portrait and history painting practice. He painted several copies of Iris, each one a bit different from the other ones, see pictures. I have had only one other cameo with this subject but in it there was not the rainbow behind Iris as we can see in other versions of the original painting.  This cameo is simply outstanding, I rarely seen this subject and only once so finely carved. This piece is harmonious in all of its details, Iris'  body movements and the lightness of her flight. The veil that covers her legs and that is softly held by one of her hands is just the same of the painting, so ethereal and so real. Her body is curvy and sensual but not vulgar at all. Her hands perfectly carved just give the impression that they are really holding the urn. Superb piece of a rarest subject which really would deserve a special place in any museum. not to be missed for its rarity and for its superb carving.

A bit of History:

Iris is, in Greek mythology, the personification of the rainbow and messenger of the gods. She is also known as one of the goddesses of the sea and the sky. Iris links the gods to humanity. She travels with the speed of wind from one end of the world to the other, and into the depths of the sea and the underworld.

According to Hesiod's Theogony, Iris is the daughter of Thaumas and the cloud nymph Electra. Her sisters are Arke and the Harpies; Aello, Celaeno, and Ocypete. Iris is frequently mentioned as a divine messenger in the Iliad which is attributed to Homer, but does not appear in his Odyssey, where Hermes fills that role. Like Hermes, Iris carries a caduceus or winged staff. By command of Zeus, the king of the gods, she carries an ewer of water from the River Styx, with which she puts to sleep all who perjure themselves. According to Apollonius Rhodius, Iris turned back the Argonauts Zetes and Calais who had pursued the Harpies to the Strophades ('Islands of Turning'). The brothers had driven off the monsters from their torment of the prophet Phineus, but did not kill them upon the request of Iris, who promised that Phineas would not be bothered by the Harpies again.

Iris is married to Zephyrus, who is the god of the west wind. Their son is Pothos (Nonnus, Dionysiaca). According to the Dionysiaca of Nonnos, Iris' brother is Hydaspes.

In Euripides' play Heracles, Iris appears alongside Lyssa, cursing Heracles with the fit of madness in which he kills his three sons and his wife Megara. In some records she is a sororal twin to the Titaness Arke (arch), who flew out of the company of Olympian gods to join the Titans as their messenger goddess during the Titanomachy, making the two sisters enemy messenger goddesses. Iris was said to have golden wings, whereas Arke had iridescent ones. She is also said to travel on the rainbow while carrying messages from the gods to mortals. During the Titan War, Zeus tore Arke's iridescent wings from her and gave them as a gift to the Nereid Thetis at her wedding, who in turn gave them to her son, Achilles, who wore them on his feet. Achilles was sometimes known as podarkes (feet like [the wings of] Arke.) Podarces was also the original name of Priam, king of Troy.

Iris also appears several times in Virgil's Aeneid, usually as an agent of Juno. In Book 4, Juno dispatches her to pluck a lock of hair from the head of Queen Dido, that she may die and enter Hades. In book 5, Iris, having taken on the form of a Trojan woman, stirs up the other Trojan mothers to set fire to 4 of Aeneas' ship in order to prevent them from leaving Sicily.

Iris had numerous poetic titles and epithets, including Chrysopteron (Golden Winged), Podas ôkea (swift footed) or Podênemos ôkea (wind-swift footed), Roscida (dewey), and Thaumantias or Thaumantos (Daughter of Thaumas, Wondrous One). Under the epithet Aellopus she was described as swift-footed like a storm-wind. She also watered the clouds with her pitcher, obtaining the water from the sea.