The goat Amalthea

Vintage shellgemme in gold setting as brooch, Italy & Birmingham circa 1973

We associate gem ornaments primarily with the 19th century and the style epochs of classicism and historicism. However, the carved representations enjoyed great popularity even beyond that. The present brooch is a good example of the enduring popularity of cameos to this day and presents us with a mythological scene in its centre in carved shell. Long before our time, the Titan Chronos ruled the world. The god was jealous and feared that his own offspring might one day push him from his throne. Therefore, he devoured each of the children born to his wife in order to secure his place as ruler. Rhea, meanwhile, his wife, wept for her children and one day decided to hide the newborn Zeus from Chronos. She gave him into the care of a nymph who, in the form of a goat, nourished Zeus with her milk. Thus the future ruler of Olympus grew up, protected and raised by the goat Amalthea. The theme of this Italian-made gem is this tale from the mythical world of the Greeks. We see the young Zeus riding the goat while two small putti accompany the duo. In 1973, the gem, which was probably created shortly before, was given a gold setting in Birmingham, England, and made wearable as a brooch.

Jewellery in Renaissance forms with rich enamelling is a particularly precious field of collecting. Only a few of these precious pieces have come down to us over the course of time without damage or missing parts, so it is a special stroke of luck to find one of these period pieces. Especially in the 19th century designs in this technique were realized. First of all, from the 1850s onwards, an enthusiasm arose in France for the era of François I and Henri II, which was understood to be an age of patriotic greatness. François-Désiré and Émile Froment-Meurice created jewellery around scenes such as the "Toilet of Venus", which at the same time made scholarly references to antiquity and yet in a cheerful way did not ignore the interests of this worldly life. Other goldsmiths such as Boucheron, Falize and Wièse followed - and in 1871 Paris was already considered the capital of enamel by the Art Journal. In Great Britain, the development took a similar course. Here, too, the Renaissance was regarded as the national style, since it referred to the glamorous era of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. John Brogden and Carlo Giuliano produced designs in London in the 1860s that were inspired by the jewels in Hans Holbein's paintings, which is why the style was called "Holbeinesque." Queen Victoria was seen as the new Queen Elizabeth and jewellery that linked this past with the present was thus seen as a badge of patriotic pride. Finally, in Germany, jewellery in Renaissance forms became fashionable under the term "Old German Style". Here, since the 1870s, the Dürer period was invoked. Jewellers such as Huga Schaper in Berlin and August Kleeberg in Vienna supplied high-quality jewellery in the Renaissance style, as did their colleagues in Paris and London, richly decorated with coloured enamel. The differences between the respective national styles, which were in any case more claimed than actual, became increasingly blurred towards the end of the century. Jewellery with artistic enamel, however, remained fashionable for a long time - for the artists of Art Nouveau, such as René Lalique, also liked to use this technique, albeit now in a completely different formal language.

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You can rely on our years of experience in the trade and our expertise as a professional art historians for reviews of the antique jewellery. As a member of various trader organisations and the British Society of Jewellery Historians, we remain committed to the highest possible degree of accuracy. In our descriptions, we always also indicate any signs of age and defects and never hide them in our photos – this saves you from any unpleasant surprises when your package arrives.

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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.

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