Rarest Cameo of Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl
 
 
 
  • Material:  Cornelian shell, 9k gold tested.
  • Size:  2 6/8" by 2 4/8" only cameo is 2 2/8" by 2".
  • Date and origin: Circa 1860 Italy.
  • Conditions:  Pristine, a few slight natural shell lines, not visible by naked eye, visible when cameo is backlit, not visible looking at cameo from the front.

This is a Museum Quality cameo brooch depicting a rarest subject seen only once before now, Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, dissolving her earring pearl in a vinegar cup. The cameo is after a painting by Carlo Maratta, an important and well known 17th century painter of the Roman school. The episode speaking of Cleopatra dissolving the pearl is narrated by Pliny the Elder in his book. The original paiting was fully respected the carver, look at the delicacy of her hand and of her fingers holding the pearl, truly incredible. Look at the sumptuous dress and to all of its decorations, hard to reproduce on a cameo. Reproducing an entire painting on a cameo is not easy at all but the carver, with no doubt a master one, did really a superb work, all the details were transferred from the painting to the shell giving life to a real work of art. Her curly and long hair are blurred on the background just like on the painting. Her face is the really pretty, perfect oval, straight and short nose, her mouth is full, round and sensual. Her eyes are extremely expressive and you can see  even like a challenge flash, just thinking to what she’s doing. The carving is high relieved giving three-dimensionality to this piece. The frame is another artwork,  This is another rarest cameo to not to miss, a real treat for any collector.    

A bit of History

The famous story of Cleopatra's pearls is told by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History : "The last of the Egyptian queens," he says, "owned the two largest pearls of all time, left to her by oriental kings. When Antony was stuffing himself daily with rare foods, she proudly and impertinently, like the royal harlot that she was, sneered at his attempts at luxury and extravagance. When he asked her what could be added in the way of sumptuousness she replied that she would use up 10,000,000 sesterces [$500,000 on the gold standard] at one dinner. Antony was eager to learn about it but didn't think it could be done. So they made a bet, and on the next day when the bet was to be decided, she set before Antony a dinner that under other circumstances would have been a magnificent one but was an everyday affair for Antony. She did this so that the day should not be entirely wasted. Antony laughed at her and asked for the reckoning. But she said that this was merely a preliminary and assured him that the real banquet would use up the estimated sum and that she would consume the half-million dollar dinner all by herself. Then she ordered the dessert to be served. According to instructions, the servants placed but one dish before her, containing vinegar whose acidity and strength dissolves pearls into slush [tabes is Pliny's word]. She was at the time wearing in her ears that remarkable and truly unique work of nature known as pearls. So while Antony was wondering what in the world she was going to do, she took one pearl from her ear, plunged it into the vinegar, and when it was dissolved, swallowed it. Lucius Plancus, who was refereeing the bet, put his hand on the other pearl as she was preparing to dissolve it in like manner and declared Antony the loser. This was a definite omen [of Antony's fate]. The fame of the dissolved pearl attended its mate, which was cut in two when the queen who had won in this important case was captured. Half of the dinner of Antony and Cleopatra was put in each ear of the statue of Venus in the Pantheon at Rome."