- Material: Sardonyx Shell, 15k gold tested. the necklace clasp bears an indistinct maker’s mark.
- Size: necklace length 41.5cm, bracelet length 19.5cm, earrings 11mm. The largest cameo measures 33mm x 25mm; the smallest 11mm x 10mm.
- Date and Origin: Circa Italy.
- Conditions: Pristine
An early 19th century gold mounted shell cameo suite, comprising a necklace of ten oval or round graduating panels carved to depict classical and mythological scenes, each panel in pinched collet and beaded mounts, with triple chain swags between, and a bracelet with belcher-link connections.
The cameos in the necklace are mostly after reliefs by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), a leading light of the Neoclassical movement in Rome in the early 19th century. The reliefs are displayed at the Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen.
The carving on both necklace and bracelet is really superb, hard to make considering that each scene is carved on small portion of shell. This is a real rarest find and it is not to be missed.
The necklace is composed of panels, from left to right, depicting:
1. Head of a putti
2. Artemis (Diana), the goddess of hunting, seated with her hound.
3. Cupid and the muse Terpsichore - the muse of dancing and song.
4. Hermes (Mercury) delivering the infant Bacchus to Ino - Bacchus was the result of an illicit relationship between Zeus and the mortal priestess Semele. On hearing of the affair and the pregnancy Here, Zeus’ wife, tricked Semele into demanding to see Zeus in his natural form. The god of thunder reluctantly obliged and Semele was killed by his thunderbolt. The infant Bacchus was snatched by Hermes who delivered him to Semele’s sister Ino to be raised. (After Relief, circa 1809, Museum Inventory No. A796).
5. Aphrodite (Venus) and Ares (Mars) in Hephaestus’ (Vulcan) forge - based on a tale related in Homer’s Oddessy. Venus, the goddess of love, is married to the blacksmith god Hephaestus, but falls in love with Ares, the god of war. This image shows Hephaestus making Cupid’s arrows of love. Venus is cooling the tips of his hot arrows in cold water, more interested in Ares, who stands behind her. Cupid, the matchmaker, stands between Aphrodite and Ares, indicating their feelings for one another. The tale continues as Hephaestus lays a trap to catch the pair ‘in flagrante’ and invites the other gods to laugh. (After Relief dated 1810, Museum Inv. A419)
6. Cupid shows Aphrodite a bee sting - based on a poem from The Idylls XIX, tentatively attributed to Theocritus.The poem tells how Cupid, stealing honey from a hive, was stung by a bee. When turning to his mother, Aphrodite, for comfort:
“She smil’d and said, how like to thee,
My son, is that unlucky bee?
Thy self art small and yet thy dart,
Wounds deep, ah!, very deep the heart”.
(After Relief dated 1809, Museum Inv. A417).
7. Bacchus offers Cupid a drink - Bacchus, the god of wine and fertility is visited by Cupid, the god of love, and is offering him a drink. (After Relief dated 1810, Museum Inv. A797)
8. Ares (Mars) - Ares, the god of war, is seated in front of an altar, which is hung with a sword.
10. Cupid - this bears similarities in composition to a relief of Cupid catching butterflies. In this example however, Cupid appears to be sailing on a raft made from a quiver of arrows, one arrow as a makeshift mast, to which is tied a billowing sail, possibly representing ‘love cut adrift’. (See Relief dated 1831, Museum Inv. A397).
1. Cupid riding a lion, ‘Amor Leonem Domans’ - Cupid tames the wildest of beasts. (After an ancient engraved gem signed Plotarchos’, see Plate LIII, Stosch’s Gemmae Antiquae Caelatae).
2. Nyx (Nox) - Nyx, the goddess of night, wearing a headdress of opium poppies, carries her sleeping children, Hypnos (sleep) and Thanos (death). She is accompanied by a nightbird, the owl. (After Relief dated 1815, Museum Inv. A901)
3. Medusa - the Gorgon monster has wings in her hair and serpents tied beneath her chin.
4. Theatrical mask
5. Eos (Aurora) - Eos, the goddess of Dawn, scatters flowers. She is accompanied by Lucifer, the genius of light,who bears a torch.
6. A Muse - carrying a lyre, and burning offerings at an altar. The muse could be possibly by Terpsichore,the muse of dancing and song, or Erato, the muse of lyric and love poetry (After Relief, a pair to Nyx above, Museum Inv. A902).
7 and 8. Theatrical masks.