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Philip II of Spain

  • Object:

    Cameo

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (possibly, made)
    Spain (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1556-60 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Leoni, Leone (artist)
    Leoni, Pompeo (artist)
    da Trezzo, Jacopo (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone

  • Museum number:

    2628-1855

  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case 9, shelf 3

The art of engraving gemstones can be traced back to ancient Greece in the 8th century BC and earlier. Techniques passed down to the Egyptians and then to the Romans. There were major revivals of interest in engraved gems in Europe during the Byantine era, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. At each stage cameos and intaglios, these skillful carvings on a minute scale, were much prized and collected, sometimes as symbols of power mounted in jewelled settings, sometimes as small objects for private devotion or enjoyment. In the secular world of the Renaissance in Europe, carved gems were collected and commissioned by rich and powerful patrons and rulers who wished to be seen as potent and enlightened figures in the mould of the great classical emperors. Part of the panoply of prestige, they were given as diplomatic or courtly gifts, and were much prized as a high form of courtly art. This cameo portrait of King Philip II of Spain is one of several made of the king and may date from around the time of his accession to the throne in 1556. It could be the work of the Italian sculptor Leone Leoni or his son Pompeo, who worked for the Spanish Habsburg courts of Emperor Charles V and his son King Phillip II. It is also possible that it is the work of another Italian, Jacopo da Trezzo, a Milanese artist who was influenced by Leone. All three were sculptors, medallists and gem-engravers who at different times worked at the Spanish court. A cameo of Charles V and Philip II by Leone Leoni (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and a marble bust and a head of Philip II by Pompeo Leoni (in the Prado Mueum, Madrid) can be compared with this cameo, as can a medal of Philip II by da Trezzo in this museum (V&A inventory 6759-1860). Such cameos may have inspired those commissioned later at the English court of Queen Elizabeth I (see V&A inventory 1603-1855).

Physical description

Vertical pear-shaped cameo. Translucent white and opaque white layered agate. Depicting King Philip II of Spain. The king is shown in profile facing left, bare-headed and with a short, pointed beard and a moustache. He wears a cuirass, gorget, and a close-fitting ruff. The Order of the Golden Fleece hangs from a chord around his neck. The cameo is fixed to a silver-gilt mount.

Place of Origin

Italy (possibly, made)
Spain (possibly, made)

Date

1556-60 (made)

Artist/maker

Leoni, Leone (artist)
Leoni, Pompeo (artist)
da Trezzo, Jacopo (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone

Dimensions

Height: 50 mm, Width: 32 mm

Object history note

Recorded as 'Bought at a sale at Foster's'. Messrs Foster were an important firm of auctioneers with a saleroom at 54 Pall Mall, London. They are known to have traded there from the early 1830s until 1940. (See note under Curator's Comments).

Historical significance: Probably made as a courtly gift from the king to a close supporter. The cameo would originally have been mounted as a pendant, richly set in a gold, enamelled or jewelled setting. There is evidence from contemporary paintings that such gems were sometimes worn for ceremony or in portraits by their owners on long chains or ribbons, at waist height. Such cameos may have inspired those commissioned later at the English court of Queen Elizabeth I (see 1603-1855).

Historical context note

This cameo may be the work of the Italian sculptor Leone Leoni or his son Pompeo, who worked for the Spanish Habsburg courts of Emperor Charles V and his son King Phillip II. It is also possible that it is the work of another Italian, Jacopo da Trezzo, a Milanese artist who was influenced by Leone. All three were sculptors, medallists and gem-engravers who at different times worked at the Spanish court. A double portrait cameo of Charles V and Philip II by Leone Leoni (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and a marble bust and a head of Philip II by Pompeo Leoni (in the Prado Mueum, Madrid) can be compared with it, as can a medal of Philip II by da Trezzo in this museum (V&A inventory 6759-1860).

Descriptive line

Cameo depicting bust of King Philip II of Spain, oval layered agate in silver-gilt setting; Italy or Spain, about 1556-60

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kriss, Ermst: Steinschneidekunst in der Italienischen Renaissance Vienna, 1929, Vol.I, p.172, No. 327, Vol.II, Illus. p. 79
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1855. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 5.
Trusted, Marjorie, ed. The Making of Sculpture. The Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: 2007, p. 147, plate 279
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 1, p.134.

Production Note

Attribution note: The silver-gilt mount is a later, probably 19th century, addition.

Materials

Layered agate; Silver-gilt; Gemstone; Microquartz

Techniques

Gem-engraving

Categories

Jewellery; Portraits; Royalty; Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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