Lava, nectar and ambrosia

Antique lava cameo of the goddess Hebe set in silver, around 1860 and later

We see the youthful goddess Hebe in peaceful coexistence with Zeus, the father of the gods, who appears in the form of an eagle. The cameo carver has captured Hebe in her most important task in the heaven of the gods in an artistic cut: She is cupbearer to the Olympian gods and responsible for the preparation of food. Here she serves her father Zeus a bowl of the gods' ambrosia and a carafe of nectar. Hebe is dressed in a peblos and Zeus as a mighty eagle with a bundle of fire in his fangs approaches in flight to fortify himself. In Homer, nectar and ambrosia appear regularly in the Odyssey as the immortalizing food of the gods. The present brooch dates from around 1860, a time when gem jewellery and the study of the legends of antiquity were particularly popular. The highly oval piece presents itself in a simple setting of silver, which was forged into the old cameo in recent years. The material of the sculpted relief is a soft limestone from the foot of Mount Vesuvius, which was cleverly described in sales terms as "lava" as early as the 19th century and which is ideal for carving sculpted cameos. Jewellery with cameos of this kind was a popular souvenir of a trip to the south of Italy in the 19th century. The ochre limestone used here was considered by travellers to be the "lava" of Vesuvius, recalling the sinking of Pompeii in 79 AD when the city sank under the ashes of this volcano. The ruined cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which sank and were miraculously rediscovered, were a fixed item on the itinerary of every Italian trip in the 19th century and offered a very direct impression of everyday life in antiquity. Jewellery made from the material of these places could thus become a beautiful, perhaps also somewhat macabre souvenir. A rare piece of jewellery and a reminiscence of classical antiquity 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.

We want you to be 100% satisfied! For that reason, we examine, describe and photograph all of our jewellery with the utmost care.

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.


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.