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Cameo - Psyche


  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    1820-50 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gemstone

  • Credit Line:

    Given by R. C. Lucas

  • 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 cameo, make in Italy between 1820 and 1850, 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.

Physical description

Vertical oval cameo. White over grey layered agate. Depicting a bust of Psyche facing left. She wears a simple shift with a brooch at the shoulder. Her hair is caught up behind and a band across her brow is decorated with butterfly wings. In a plain gold mount.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


1820-50 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved gemstone


Height: 3.1 cm, Width: 1.7 cm

Object history note

Given by the British neo-classical sculptor Richard Cockle Lucas in 1865, together with twenty-two ivory carvings, twelve waxes, sixteen other gems, a marble group and a portrait in plaster.

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 mount, depicting a bust of Psyche, Italy, about 1820-50

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

Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1865. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 10
Machell Cox, E., Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems. London, Typescript, 1935, Part 2, Section 2, p. 215

Production Note

Attribution note: Opaque white over translucent grey body colour. This cameo has been previously described as 'onyx', but this term now applies to black or black and white chalcedony/agate only (see Jewellery Studies, vol.7, pp.66-72). J Whalley, May 2009. Set in gold with a copper mount which was intended to slot into an object.


Layered agate; Microquartz; Gemstone


Gem engraving


Sculpture; Jewellery


Sculpture Collection

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