Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Cameo

Cameo

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    1800-45 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    engraved gemstone set in a gold ring; Pale pink/white/colourless layered agate.

  • Credit Line:

    Townshend Bequest

  • Museum number:

    1808-1869

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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. This gem, depicting an idealised female head, 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.

Physical description

Vertical oval cameo. Depicts a female head facing left, with hair partly tied up, partly falling onto neck and shoulder.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)

Date

1800-45 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

engraved gemstone set in a gold ring; Pale pink/white/colourless layered agate.

Dimensions

Height: 26 mm approximate, Width: 17 mm approximate

Object history note

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 in London, 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 note

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.

Descriptive line

Cameo, oval layered agate of three strata, set in gold ring, depicting a female head, Italy, 1800-45

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

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. 126
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 2, p. 221

Production Note

Attribution note: The lowermost layer is of colourless chalcedony, however the cameo is set in a closed back setting and the back of the cameo painted red lending the colourless chalcedony a reddish colour.

Materials

Layered agate; Chalcedony; Gemstone; Microquartz; Gold

Techniques

Gem-engraving

Subjects depicted

Female head

Categories

Jewellery; Sculpture; Portraits; Gemstones

Collection

Sculpture Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.