The King of Sparta

Antique shell cameo of Menelaos after Greek model in gold setting, around 1845

The present cameo was created after a famous model: It is based on the bust of Menelaus, a sculpture we find today in the Vatican Museums (see last photo). It is a Roman copy from the years around 230-240 B.C. after the Pasquino group, which today is only preserved as a torso. We know Menelaus' story from Homer's Iliad. According to the story, he was the king of Sparta who married the beautiful Helen. After her abduction by Paris, he gathered a large army and led it to Troy to reclaim his wife, which he finally succeeded in doing. The Pasquino group now depicts a scene from the Trojan War. It depicts the moment when Menelaus was guarding the body of Patroclus, Achilles' companion in arms, on the battlefield before Troy. So here, too, Menelaus' head is proudly held aloft. It is probably his bravery as a warrior during the Trojan War that is also honoured by his Phrygian cap: for this is decorated with an analogous scene from the life of the hero Heracles, who fights with the centaur Nessos. The latter had shortly before kidnapped Heracles' wife Deïaneira. The Italian cameo engraver skillfully used the different layers of the shell to depict Menelaus' hair and beard in a colourful tint. The facial features are delicately sculpted in white against a background that changes from cream to rose. This beautiful work is framed by a noble setting of gold volutes, which stylistically can be dated to the time around 1845. Photo: Bust of Menelaus, Vatican Museums. Giacomo Brogi, before 1881.

Italy has been the longing destination of all inhabitants of the cold north for centuries. Its Mediterranean landscape and diverse art treasures also made the country the highlight of every Grand Tour. On this so-called cavalier tour, young aristocrats and later also wealthy citizens travelled to various countries in order to perfect their education, which was an indispensable ticket to the highest social classes. From the 18th century onwards, it was mainly the English, who had achieved great wealth through their extensive colonial empire, who set off on the still arduous journey to the south. The region around the Gulf of Naples was a fixed point on the programme. Especially the ancient ruined cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum fascinated the travellers with their direct insight into the ancient Roman everyday life and had a lasting influence on their taste. As a souvenir of such a stay at the foot of Vesuvius, especially cameos with mythological motifs were popular, since the region of Naples was the leading centre of cameo carving. Carved in stone, shell or coral, the cameos were acquired by the travellers and often only set in their homeland.

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.