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Cameo - Latin inscription

Latin inscription

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    350-450 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone; White over orange-red translucent carnelian, set in gold ring

  • 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. Based in an earlier, Greek, tradition, gems such as this cameo, which persisted into the fifth and sixth centuries after the birth of Christ, were popular as keepsakes given to a friend or loved-one. Messages in Greek, or far less commonly in Latin, might consist of the name of the intended owner together with an exhortation or a wish for good fortune or long life, as seen here. Other later cameo inscriptions had religious significance and bore Christian names and invocations such as 'Christ help'. The trail of ownership of this delicate inscribed cameo can be followed back as far as the early nineteenth century, from which period a plaster cast of it in an unidentified Italian collection exists. It later passed through the collections of no less than four wealthy collectors, before being bought by the Museum in 1871. Its last private owner was Edmund Waterton, a pioneering collector who assembled a huge and important collection of around 760 rings and gems. Waterton went bankrupt, and the Museum purchased his collection from one of his creditors.

Physical description

Horizontal pointed oval cameo. White over orange-red translucent carnelian. Inscription in two lines, cut from upper white layer, with outer raised border and two floral decorations at the ends of the lines, also cut from white layer. Set in gold ring.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


350-450 (made)


Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone; White over orange-red translucent carnelian, set in gold ring

Marks and inscriptions

'Fabiana, may you live'
Translation is from Jeffrey Spier entry (see References)


Width: 11 mm approximate, Height: 5 mm approximate

Object history note

In an unidentified Italian (Rome) collection in the early nineteenth century (see References re a cast by Cades which survives). Formerly in the collection of Bram Hertz and acquired by the Liverpool collector Joseph Mayer. This cameo was sold at Sotheby's in 1859 in the sale by Mayer of what had been the Bram Hertz collection, and acquired by Chaffers for Matthew Uzielli (1805-60). Matthew Uzielli was a wealthy banker, railway magnate and a celebrated collector of paintings and decorative art, for whom John Charles Robinson (the first curator of the South Kensington Museum) sometimes bought objects. Together with the Prince Consort he was the major guarantor of the 1862 International Exhibtion. Following the Matthew Uzielli Sale, Christie's London, April 12-20 1861, the cameo passed into the Waterton Collection, and was bought by the Museum following inclusion in Christie's Sale (undated, not held), lot 44. Edmund Waterton (1830-87) is referred to as one of a group of 'pioneer collectors' by Diana Scarisbrick, 'C.D.E. Fortnum as a collector of rings and gems', C.D.E. Fortnum and the collecting and study of applied arts and sculpture in Victorian England, Ed: Ben Thomas and Timothy Wilson, 1999. His collection of approximately 760 rings, formed with the aim of illustrating the history of rings of all period and types, was acquired by the Museum in 1871 and 1899. Waterton, in 1868 'of Walton Castle, near Wakefield, in the county of York, but now residing at Ostend in the Kingdom of Belgium', got into financial difficulties, and was later to be declared bankrupt. The collection of rings was held as security against a loan by the jeweller Robert Phillips for two years from March of that year. The loan was to be repaid by Waterton by March 1870, but the deadline was not met. Phillips having first contacted the Museum regarding the possible purchase of the rings in 1869, the purchase was recommended by the Board of the Museum in a minute of 20 April 1871. The majority of the rings are held in Metalwork Section, a small number in Sculpture Section.

Historical significance: For a discussion of this and other inscriptions of this type, see Jeffrey Spier, Late Antique and Early Christian Gems, Weisbaden, 2007, pp. 135-9.

Historical context note

Engraved gemstones of all dates were widely collected in Italy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many were brought back by British Grand Tourists, and important collections were formed.

Descriptive line

Cameo, oval layered agate, set in gold ring, inscribed in Latin 'FABIAN A VIVAS', Italy, 350-450

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

List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1871, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., p. 46
Spier, Jeffrey. Late Antique and Early Christian Gems. Wiesbaden, 2007, p. 138, no. 756
King, Charles William. Antique Gems and Rings. London, 1872
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 1, pp. 81 & 81a
Robinson, J.C., Catalogue of the Various Works of Art forming the Collection of Matthew Uzielli, Esq. of Hanover House, Regent's Park, London, London, 1860, No. 808
Sale catalogue Various works of art forming the collection of the late Matthew Uzielli, Christie's London, April 12-20, 1861, lot 808
Catalogue of the celebrated and well-known collection of Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Indian, Peruvian, Mexican and Chinese antiquities, formed by B. Hertz... now the property of Joseph Mayer., Sotheby's, February 1859, lot 3090
Plaster cast of this cameo by Cades; see Cades, 54.V.B.19

Production Note

Attribution note: White over orange-red translucent chalcedony. Formerly incorrectly identified as 'nicolo', which is a bluish over brown/black layered agate (J Whalley May 2009)


Carnelian; Gold; Layered agate; Chalcedony; Microquartz


Gem engraving


Jewellery; Sculpture; Gemstones


Sculpture Collection

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