Cameos: A Long History

By Meredith Salton

This week’s object is a beautiful gold ring with a tiger’s eye cameo of a man. The art of cameos are a European tradition that became popular in the American colonies. The trend has been fading in and out of history for as long as two thousand years.  A cameo is a relief image raised higher than its background and carved from one material.

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Our cameo is mysterious. While we do not know its provenance, we can make assessments based on the style. There is a Roman style man in a tiger’s eye stone, a semi-precious stone. Most times, cameos were carved into shell. Tiger’s eye is more difficult to carve into than shell, and may have taken more time and effort. While the style is Roman, this ring is likely from the 19th century.

The tradition of cameo carving has a long history in Europe. It started in Ancient Greece and Rome where they carved gods and goddess along with themes from mythology, beautiful women and biblical events. Cameos became popular again during the Renaissance. Pope Paul II was an avid cameo collector. Later, Queen Victoria also collected cameos. Cameos saw high popularity with Victorian women. In the early 19th century, many cameos of simple Roman women were created. Later, upper class women traveled Europe and collected these. The wealthy women then requested the creation of cameos that looked more like them- thinner neck, hair up, and wearing jewelry. The United States boasted fine quality cameos with Louis Comfort Tiffany’s rise during the Art Nouveau period in the early 1900’s. Though America was producing cameos, many were imported from Italy. Finer cameos were made from materials such as stone, shell, coral, Gutta-percha, bog oak, ivory, lava, or mother-of-pearl. Costume cameo jewelry was often glass or later, plastic.

Sources:

Rush, Anne Kent. “Classic Cameos and Incomparable Intaglios – Yesterday and Today.” Jules and Gem Books, 2000. Extasia. Web. 25 August 2016.

Azzarito, Amy. “Past & Present: Cameos + DIY Projects and Cocktail Recipe.” Design*Sponge, 14 September 2010. Web. 25 August 2016.

Miller, Anna M. “Cameos Old & New.” Woodstock, VE: GemStone Press, 1998. The Cameo Collection. Web. 25 August 2016.

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