- Material: Cornelian Shell, 14k gold marked.
- Size: 3" by 2 5/8", length with the bale 3 2/8", cameo itself is 2 1/2" by 2 1/8".
- Date and Origin: circa 1870 Italy. Signed on the back G. L.
- Conditions: Some natural internal lines, visible when cameo is backlit. Only a shortest one is very very barely visible by naked eye, it is located just above the Cleopatra head and just seems part of her hair.
This is a highest Museum Quality cameo brooch and pendant depicting a rarest subject never seen 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 Natural History. The carver fully respected the painting, look at the sumptuous dress and to all of its decorations, hard to reproduce on a cameo, look at the delicacy of her hand and of her fingers holding the pearl, truly amazing. Her curly and long hair are blurred on the background just like on the painting. Her face is the prettiest one, perfect oval, straight and short nose, full and round and sensual mouth. Her eyes are extremely expressive and you can see sweetness and, at the same time, even like a challenge flash, just thinking to what she’s doing. Reproducing an entire painting on a cameo is not easy at all but the carver, with no doubt a great 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. The carving is high relieved giving three-dimensionality to this piece. The frame is another artwork, 14 k rose gold, fully marked, gloss gold at the four cardinal points and for the bail, and satin gold for the scrolls. There are about 25 grams of 14k gold, only the frame is worth a small fortune! 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."