Cupid's gifts

Antique lava cameo in plastic cut as brooch, around 1890

Gems made of colored stone were a popular souvenir of a trip to the south of Italy in the 19th century. The material was considered to be the "lava" of Vesuvius and reminded of the sinking of Pompeii in 79 AD when the city sank under lava and ash 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 ancient Roman everyday life. Jewellery made from the material of these places could thus become a beautiful, perhaps also somewhat macabre souvenir. Jewellery of all qualities was created, from simple small brooches to large parures. That lava as souvenir jewellery was in no way considered inferior in the eyes of contemporaries is shown by the fact that pieces made of lava can also be found in the oeuvre of such famous goldsmiths as the Castellani. Augusto Castellani, Fortunato Pio's son, describes in his book Delle gemme. Notizie raccolte, Florence 1870, p. 138, the so-called lava of Vesuvius, among other materials, as a known source material for cameo work in the Naples area. The brooch here was created in the late 19th century and shows the messenger of love, Cupid, in a particularly vivid cut. Venus' winged helper sits on a rock and holds a basket in front of his chest. What might he be hiding here? Are they rose petals with which he will soon mark the common path of a young couple in love? The relief is set in silver and can thus be worn as a brooch. We discovered it here in Berlin.

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.

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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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