Cameo Jewelry History
A cameo is a piece of jewelry (often spelled jewelery or jewellery) or other art object that is usually oval and has a raised (in relief) carved image. Throughout jewelry history cameos have been used in necklaces, pendants, rings, and other types of jewelry. They have also been made as free standing works of art. There have been many materials used to carve cameos throughout history they include semi-precious gemstones (particularly various types of agate and onyx), stone, shell, and glass. Historically the word cameo was used to refer to objects where the raised part was a different color than the background. In modern times the definition has been expanded to include art objects where there is no color contrast between the raised portion and the background.
On this page we list information about cameo jewelry history from ancient times through modern times.
Ancient Egypt - Cameo Jewelry History
Just where and when the first cameo was made will never be known. However it was most likely ancient Egypt that first produced this type of artwork. Egyptian cameo engravings of scarabs have been found that date back to before 3000 BC. The famous Egyptian queen Cleopatra had cameos displaying her image carved using gems including emeralds.
Ancient Greece - Cameo Jewelry History
The ancient Greeks made magnificent cameos made out of stone as long ago as the 3rd century BC. One of the oldest surviving pieces produced by the ancient Greek civilization was a cup named the Farnese Tazza. This cameo cup most likely dates back to the 1st century B.C. and is from the Hellenistic kingdom in Egypt. It has been sought after and acquired by numerous rulers and wealthy individuals throughout history. On the inside are figures representing several Egyptian gods, and on the outside the head of Medusa.
Ancient Rome Cameo History
The ancient Romans, who made beautiful pieces of art, made cameos that resemble the ones made today. These would often have images of family members or scenes from their mythology. Perhaps the most famous cameo produced in ancient Rome was the Great Cameo of France made for Emperor Claudius. This masterpiece is the largest flat engraved gem produced in ancient times. It is a five-layered sardonyx cameo created around 23 AD. The Romans also made beautiful cameos using glass. These pieces are extremely rare with only about sixteen known complete pieces having survived. One spectacular example is the Portland Vase which is the most famous cameo made of glass. Dated between 5 AD and 25 AD it has a violet-blue glass background surrounded by white glass which is the cameo depicting several god and human figures.
The History of Cameo Jewelry in Later Periods
- During the Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries shells became a popular material used to make cameos. The ancient Romans had also used this material but not nearly to the extent used during this period.
- Pope Paul II (1468 to 1549) was known to collect cameos.
- Cameos have often been a favorite jewelry type of the Queens of England; most notably Queen Victoria.
- Wealthy Victorian woman commissioned Italian carvers to carve cameos with their likeness on them. Commissioned portraits were the vogue in this period.
- Napoleon Bonaparte admired the beauty of cameos so much that he wore one at his wedding and founded a school that taught the art of cameo carving.
- It was not until the nineteenth century that human profiles became the most popular subject for cameo jewelry.