Not currently on display at the V&A

Psyche

Cameo
ca. 1800 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The art of engraving gemstones has been admired since the early days of the Roman empire. It was revived in Europe during the Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cameos and intaglios were prized and collected, sometimes as symbols of power and mounted in jewelled settings, sometimes as small objects for private devotion or enjoyment. This gem is in the 'neo-classical' style popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s, when taste in the arts echoed the subject matter and style of the Greek and Roman masters. Thousands of gems were made in this style in Italy and brought back by British Grand Tourists, who went there to visit the newly-discovered classical antiquities and archaeological sites. In 2nd century Roman tales, the beautiful maid Psyche was Cupid's lover, who eventually after many trials was united with him in heaven. She came to symbolise the Soul seeking union with Desire, and is often accompanied in images by a butterfly, representing the soul.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Engraved gemstone
Brief Description
Cameo, oval layered jasper of three strata, set in gold ring, depicting Psyche, Italy, ca.1800
Physical Description
Vertical oval cameo. Brown/pale brown/ brown layered opaque jasper. Depicts a bust of Psyche facing to the right. Her hair is bound by a fillet on which is a butterfly's wing. Set in a gold ring.
Dimensions
  • Approx. height: 19mm
  • Approx. width: 14mm
Style
Credit line
Townshend Bequest
Object history
This gem was part of the collection of the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868), who bequeathed his important collection to the South Kensington Museum in 1869. Although the gemstone collection is not as comprehensive as that found at the Natural History Museum, it is of particular historic interest as its formation pre-dates the development of many synthetic stones and artificial enhancements. All the stones were mounted as rings before they came to the Museum. Some are held in the Sculpture Section, other more elaborately mounted ones in the Metalwork Section.



As well as being a clergyman, collector and dillettante, the Reverend Townshend wrote poetry. He met Robert Southey in 1815 and through him the Wordsworths, the Coleridges and John Clare. He was a friend of Charles Dickens and dedicatee of his novel 'Great Expectations'.
Historical context
Engraved gemstones based on classical models were widely produced and collected in Italy in the eighteenth century. Many were brought back by British Grand Tourists, and important collections were formed.
Production
Attribution note: The dark brown colour appears to be concentrated within grain boundaries, suggestive of artificial colour enhancement (probably 'sugaring' process).
Subject depicted
Summary
The art of engraving gemstones has been admired since the early days of the Roman empire. It was revived in Europe during the Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cameos and intaglios were prized and collected, sometimes as symbols of power and mounted in jewelled settings, sometimes as small objects for private devotion or enjoyment. This gem is in the 'neo-classical' style popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s, when taste in the arts echoed the subject matter and style of the Greek and Roman masters. Thousands of gems were made in this style in Italy and brought back by British Grand Tourists, who went there to visit the newly-discovered classical antiquities and archaeological sites. In 2nd century Roman tales, the beautiful maid Psyche was Cupid's lover, who eventually after many trials was united with him in heaven. She came to symbolise the Soul seeking union with Desire, and is often accompanied in images by a butterfly, representing the soul.
Bibliographic References
  • Machell Cox, E. Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London: Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 2, p. 215
  • List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1869, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., p. 125
Collection
Accession Number
1792-1869

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record createdOctober 18, 2004
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