Against all obstacles
First-class shell cameo by Tommaso Saulini after John Gibson, c. 1860
A great love against all obstacles - this romantic idea is not only today the material for the cinema. Even in ancient times we encounter myths that play out this plot in ever new constellations. But it was above all in the 19th century that great love became the ideal of the age. The tightly laced ladies and the gentlemen besieged by strait-laced men of the morally strict time elevated the single, great love against all odds to the ideal - even if the reality - perhaps - was not always quite so unambiguous... This large brooch is dedicated to exactly this theme. We see Cupid and Psyche, the beautiful king's daughter and her lover, Venus' messenger of love. The scene, cut in shell, shows both lovers closely embraced. Psyche is distinguished by butterfly wings; she holds another butterfly in her hand. This iconography comes from the Greek, for Psyche means both soul and butterfly. The king's daughter Psyche sparked the envy of Venus by her great beauty. When her son, Cupid, the messenger of love, fell in love with the mortal, Venus entrusted the unfortunate with several dangerous tasks. But against all expectations, Psyche mastered the trials with the help of her lover, who disobeyed his mother's orders. Finally, the supreme god Jupiter took pity on the couple. He had a cup of ambrosia handed to Psyche, thus making her immortal and admitting her to Olympus. The exceptional quality of the shell cut of our brooch already shows that a special master of his trade has worked here. In fact, the brooch brings together two of the most beloved artists of Victorian England. On the one hand, the depiction follows a relief by John Gibson (1790-1866), who worked as a student of Thorvaldsen in Rome. He created his relief with Cupid and Psyche in 1853, a copy is kept today in the Royal Academy of Arts in London. But the shell-gem with Gibson's motif is also the work of an artist of his own. It is signed "T. Saulini F[ecit]." Tommaso Saulini (1793-1864) and his son Luigi ran a cameo workshop in Rome, initially at 8 Via della Croce, then by 1867 the studio had moved to 96 Via del Babuino. Saulini was one of the most famous cameo cutters of his time and exhibited his works with great success even at the first World's Fair in London in 1852. The result was a commission from Queen Victoria: Saulini received the exclusive order to make the Queen's portrait for each copy of the Victoria & Albert Order. The signed gem at hand here was made in the years around 1860. Saulini created several examples after Gibson's model, a comparative example can be found in Charlotte Gere/Judy Rudoe: Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria, London: British Museum Press 2010, pp. 474-476, there fig. 480. Interestingly, the gem shows the close collaboration of both artists: The butterfly that Psyche holds in her hand can only be found in a drawing from Gibson's studio, but not in the executed marble works: Saulini thus had direct access to Gibson's workshop in Rome. The elegant setting of high-carat gold was probably created in Great Britain shortly after the gem. It glows warmly in the beautiful gold tone of its additional fine gilding and gives the beautiful scene a worthy setting. Cf. besides the cited work also Tommaso e Luigi Saulini. Incisori di cammei nella Roma dell'Ottocento, ed. by Francesca Barberini Dickmann and Micaela De Petra, Rome 2006. On Gibson, see also https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/how-to-read-it-john-gibson-september-2016.
Victorian England was infatuated with gem ornaments. Unlike earlier eras, when gems were kept in locked cabinets and delighted only the collector, they were now meant to be worn and admired by all as transportable works of art. Gems with mythological motifs were particularly prized. English travellers who visited Italy in the course of the Grand Tour were the first to bring the quality carved gems back home as souvenirs; later the carved gems were imported directly by British traders and set into jewellery locally. On the British love of Italian gems, see Charlotte Gere/Judy Rudoe: Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria, London: British Museum Press 2010, pp. 464-481.
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We want you to be 100% satisfied! That’s why we examine, describe and photograph all our jewellery with the utmost care.
If for any reason you are still not satisfied, contact us and we will find a mutual solution immediately. Regardless, you can return any item within 30 days and we will refund you the full purchase price.