Material: Sardonyx Shell, Whitby Jet.
Size: 1 7/8" by 1 1/2" only cameo is 1 5/8" by 1 2/8".
Date and Origin: Circa 1850 Italy.
This is an Excellent Quality cameo depicting Hercules. In so many years of trade I have never found a cameo depicting him, I have seen so many depicting this subject but none met the high standards that I search for my cameos. This one is perfect and unusual, it is mounted on Whitby Jet, that was mainly used, in the Victorian era, to make mourning jewellery. This one was once a bracelet clasp but can be easily mounted as a brooch or pendant or both. Hercules is here depicted wearing the pelt of the Nemean Leon who was slain by him and that was one of his famous Twelve Labors. This cameo is perfectly carved and all the details are minutely evidenced. His profile is strong and fierce, his curly beard seems just real. The lion pelt is more than superbly carved. A real high quality cameo mounted on an unusual frame. A collector piece to not to miss.
NOTE: Cameo has been not yet cleaned.
Heracles was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson (and half-brother) of Perseus. He was the greatest of the Greek heroes, a paragon of masculinity, the ancestor of royal clans who claimed to be Heracleidae and a champion of the Olympian order against chthonic monsters. In Rome and the modern West, he is known as Hercules
, with whom the later Roman Emperors, in particular Commodus and Maximian, often identified themselves. The Romans adopted the Greek version of his life and works essentially unchanged, but added anecdotal detail of their own, some of it linking the hero with the geography of the Central Mediterranean. Details of his cult were adapted to Rome as well. Extraordinary strength, courage, ingenuity, and sexual prowess with both males and females were among the characteristics commonly attributed to him. Heracles used his wits on several occasions when his strength did not suffice, such as when laboring for the king Augeas of Elis, wrestling the giant Antaeus, or tricking Atlas into taking the sky back onto his shoulders. Together with Hermes he was the patron and protector of gymnasia and palaestrae. His iconographic attributes are the lion skin and the club. Many popular stories were told of his life, the most famous being The Twelve Labours of Heracles. Driven mad by Hera, Heracles slew his own children. To expiate the crime, Heracles was required to carry out ten labors set by his archenemy, Eurystheus, who had become king in Heracles' place. If he succeeded, he would be purified of his sin and, as myth says, he would be granted immortality. Heracles accomplished these tasks, but Eurystheus did not accept the cleansing of the Augean stables because Heracles was going to accept pay for the labor. Neither did he accept the killing of the Lernaean Hydra as Heracles' nephew, Iolaus, had helped him burn the stumps of the heads. Eurysteus set two more tasks (fetching the Golden Apples of Hesperides and capturing Cerberus), which Heracles performed successfully, bringing the total number of tasks up to twelve.
Not all writers gave the labors in the same order. The Bibliotheca (2.5.1-2.5.12) gives the following order:
- Slay the Nemean Lion.
- Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
- Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis.
- Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
- Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
- Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
- Capture the Cretan Bull.
- Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
- Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
- Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
- Steal the apples of the Hesperides (he had the help of Atlas to pick them after Hercules had slain Ladon).
- Capture and bring back Cerberus.
The first of Heracles' twelve labours, and the most famous one, set by King Eurystheus (his cousin) was to slay the Nemean lion.
The Nemean lion was a vicious monster in Greek mythology that lived at Nemea. It was eventually killed by Heracles. It could not be killed with mortals' weapons because its golden fur was impervious to attack. Its claws were sharper than mortals' swords and could cut through any armour. Today lions are not part of the Greek fauna (or the fauna of Europe). However according to Herodotus, lion populations were extant in Ancient Greece, until around 100 BC when they were extinct. The lion is usually considered to have been the offspring of Typhon (or Orthrus) and Echidna; it is also said to have fallen from the moon as the offspring of Zeus and Selene, or alternatively born of the Chimera. The Nemean lion was sent to Nemea in the Peloponnesus by Hera to terrorize the city and destroy Heracles. When Heracles got to Nemea and began tracking the terrible lion, he soon discovered his arrows were useless against the beast. Heracles picked up his club and went after the lion. Following it to a cave which had two entrances, Heracles blocked one of the doorways, then approached the fierce lion through the other. Grasping the lion in his mighty arms, and ignoring its powerful claws, he held it tightly until he'd choked it to death. When Hercules made it back to Mycenae, Eurystheus was amazed that the hero had managed such an impossible task. The king became afraid of Heracles, and forbade him from entering through the gates of the city. Furthermore, Eurystheus had a large bronze jar made and buried partway in the earth, where he could hide from Heracles if need be. After that, Eurystheus sent his commands to Heracles through a herald, refusing to see the powerful hero face to face. The Nemean lion was placed by Zeus among the signs of the zodiac, where he formed the constellation Leo.