Most of us had been seeing something all of our lives: the camel, perhaps the most common type of classical jewelry. Who's not one of the grandmothers in her box? Mine took hers from Germany and wore it with pride, a precious residue of her heritage. The classic woman in profile was traditional, sculpted in a shell.
One was quite stirred at the auction last month, a portrait of Joachim Murat, known in his day as "The Dandy King" in Sardonijk, from the early 19th century. Murat struggled for Napoleon, married his niece, Caroline Bonaparte, and in 1808 he was made king of Naples. This caméo attribute almost $45,000 last month to Sotheby's London, the favorite Bonaport carver, Filippo Rega. Murat escaped to Corsica, after the fall of Napoleon, where he was tried and sentenced to death for a treason. When he was hanged, he was told that, before teaching the firing squad, he kissed his wife's cameo, probably also carved by Rega: "Straight into the heart but keep the face."
There's one a little older: Emperor Tiberius' Roman glass portrait, c. 1st century A.D., up for sales at Christie's New York Wednesday antiquities.
We also looked at jewelry from Past Is Present: Egyptian Revival and archeological revivals at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (through August 19). Let's end with the case that traces miniature graven portraits from old rings to glass (England 18th century), coin (Bulgari vintage) and jewelry for modern art.
Down in 19th century, during the revival craze, cameos had to be worn not only as an individual throat brook (as my grandmother had to be), but as crowds. Renaissance gems were sensitive yet abundantly worn. Several sets of pieces – even in the classical style at the beginning.
A necklace and no less than five brooches are part of this perfectly sculpted cameo-coat collection from 1840. Emily Stoehrer, curator of the MFA for jewelry who arranged the exhibition, says: "It's fascinating to know how this could have been carried. "Worn a lot of jewelry by Victorians. Their aesthetics were "more is more," and how they wore their jewelry is also very artistic. For starters, Brooches were worn in different ways than we think today about the broochs."
This suite provides golden, delicately crafted coral with a Bacchus theme and urns and grape vines. This suite has been furnished in the 1850s.
Cameo trend was strong throughout the 19th century. But by 1890, the trend had changed from classical artifacts to Renaissance when Ms. Philip Newman (below) had modeled this collar around the portrait of Elizabeth I. I love that she picked an emerald frame for this cameo agate and managed to make the emerald fabric look like diamond-shrouded.
For the London jewler John Brogden, popular in the Revivalist jewelry and Renaissance Revival in particular, Charlotte Newman worked. But by then Brogden had died and his protector who signed her piece, Mrs. N, had opened her own Savile Row store. (This is Mrs. Newman, you will read more.)
There is a large graved shell mask by contemporary Japanese Shinji Nakaba in the set of cameos in Boston. "His work is in a different scale, while clearly engaging in the past, and looks totally different from the originals of the 19th century," said Stoehrer.
Nakaba formed the mask so as to appear like a marble face cut outwards for some time as an architectural decoration. Nakaba used the dark under the shell to create an illusion of centuries-old rain. The eyes are almost gone – blind or both, but the face communicates peacefully. This is what he calls his brooch "Peace."
The pendant created in 1906 by Cartier was crafted around a Medusa head carved in white coral and looks as if it could have been carved in marble over a doorway. Enamel, diamonds and perls are enhanced and matched with a Byzantine bracelet featuring an earlier Medusa cameo.
"This reuse of things of the past, like cameos, even at the very beginning of history shows an interest," she says. "This level of detail was really extraordinary for the artists in all these camelots, the sculptural shell and hardstone."
In order to avoid forgetting the custom of cameo, Stoehrer threw in a few classical portraits in other fabrics, ties with more than just graved hardstone.
In this case, the oldest cameo dates to 1786 and is made of Wedgewood glass, not gemstone. He shows a slave in chains like the ancient Roman Intaglio's kneeling warrior. For one reason, this representation was chosen. As part of the British campaign to end the transatlantic slave trafficking, the glass factory Wedgwood located in Staffordshire, UK has designed the medallion.
The ancient coins in this necklace by Bulgari, which in the eighties were crafted to honor the most macho-gods Heracles, show a further throwback to the Greek Gods.
Stoehrer says: "Whether you think about the growth of modernity, there is a lot of resemblance between then and now. In a way, the victorian mentality is not as far as we want to think. Today we have this big development in digital technology and the Industrial Revolution took place in the 19th century.
"The acceleration and loss of the hand craft of modern life - and the artists' battle with it - occurred in either case. In both cases there was a retrospective at the same time as these great technical advances."