A divine couple

Exquisite shell cameo with Zeus and Hera in gold setting, around 1840

The gods of antiquity lived in the spheres of Olympus, but they were capable of very worldly feelings. Revenge, hatred and anger were among them, but also love and desire. Thus, their path often led them to earthly realms, where they messed up the lives of mortals. Especially Zeus, the father of the gods, was known for his many amorous adventures, which he often pursued in transformed form. Thus he tried to deceive both his unsuspecting chosen ones and his ever jealous and suspicious wife Hera. However, the escapades of the divine philanderer did not remain undiscovered - and only rarely without consequences - so that all kinds of solid conflicts determined the fate of those involved. On the present exquisite shell gem, however, we see the divine couple in cosy togetherness. Zeus and Hera, who were not only spouses but also siblings, are depicted as rulers of Olympus. Raptured in the clouds of heavenly spheres, we see the two supreme gods in a timelessly sublime pose. At Zeus' feet is his symbolic animal, the eagle. In his hands he holds the bundle of lightning as proof of his dominion over the weather, the rain and the power of nature. Hera is recognizable by her diadem, the so-called Stepháne (Greek στεφάνη), and the peacock at her side. According to the legend, the peacock received its magnificent appearance in which Hera spread the hundred eyes of the slain giant Argos on its tail feathers. Ouroboros winds around the scene. The snake devouring itself and closed to the round symbolizes the cycle and the power of the time which even the gods cannot escape... A magnificent setting of finely wrought gold frames the oval gem. Its tendrils and C-curves are typical of the Biedermeier style and allow us to date this piece of jewellery to the years around 1840. With a pin on the back and a retractable eyelet, the fine gem can be worn as a brooch as well as a pendant. The gem is a wonderful collectible and wearable work of art in one.

For centuries, possessing antique cameos and gems was the claim of almost all great collections of decorative arts and cabinets of curiosities, from the Green Vault in Dresden and the treasury of Rudolf II to large private collections such as that of Baron von Stosch in later times. The 18th and 19th centuries produced numerous large imprint collections of antique seal stones and gems, which were able to represent the ancient imagery of antique glyptic almost in its entirety, as they were also an expression of a humanistic education. Often figures of the Olympian heaven of gods or mythological scenes were the subject of the representations. Of particular importance for the transmission of stone and shell carvings north of the Alps have always been travellers to Italy, who brought home impressions and carved stones as well as engraved shells from their educational journeys in order to enjoy the stories that the shells could tell. The art of gem-cutting has survived to this day in Italy, especially in the Bay of Naples, where it has been passed down from generation to generation. Today, the Scuola dei Cammei in Torre del Greco is the only large-scale training centre for gem-cutters in Italy in the world, although unfortunately the mythological theme has been lost.

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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.

Should you for some reason not be satisfied, please don’t hesitate to contact us so that we can begin to find a solution together. In any case, you can return any article within 30 days and we will refund the full purchase price.


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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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