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Cameo - The head of a Roman emperor, probably Claudius
  • The head of a Roman emperor, probably Claudius
  • Enlarge image

The head of a Roman emperor, probably Claudius

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1840 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved jasper and glass cameo set in gold ring; White opaline glass on greyish black jasper.

  • Credit Line:

    Townshend Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • 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 imitation engraved gemstone 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. This particular form of reproduction is known as a 'doublet'. The care with which it has been made, and then mounted in gold, shows how desirable engraved gems were. A glass paste mould of a classical head has been stuck to a real jasper backing to reproduce the effect of a genuine engraved gemstone with two layers of colour. This portrait resembles heads of the Roman emperor Claudius (10 BC-54 CE) on coins from his reign.

Physical description

Vertical oval cameo. Depicts the profile head of a Roman emperor, bare-headed and clean-shaven, facing left.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


ca. 1840 (made)


Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carved jasper and glass cameo set in gold ring; White opaline glass on greyish black jasper.


Height: 22 mm approximate, Width: 16 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 glass paste on jasper backing, set in gold ring, a doublet (fake), depicting a Roman emperor, probably Claudius, Italy, ca. 1840

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 1, p. 161

Production Note

Attribution note: The relief portrait is entirely of white translucent glass. The cemented join to the jasper beneath is hidden in the setting. The intention has been to give the appearance of an onyx cameo. The glass appears to have been formed in a mould; the edges of the details are rounded and not crisp as in a carving (Joanna Whalley 26/05/2009).


Jasper; Paste (glass); Gold


Gem engraving


Fakes & forgeries; Gemstones


Sculpture Collection

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