Guardian of science

Antique shell cameo of Athena, set in gold, England circa 1870

The heaven of the gods of antiquity knew many deities for every conceivable concern and with the various responsibilities. The goddess Athena, young, beautiful and graceful, was the patron goddess of Athens and at the same time the mistress of wisdom, strategy and the arts and sciences. The gem here shows us her profile image carved in conch shell. Rich and moving, her long hair flows out from under her laurel-wreathed helmet with its large plume of feathers. The face of the goddess is shaped according to the ancient ideal of beauty with a straight nose and is calm, yet full, beautiful and elegant. In the 19th century, shell gowns were created in large numbers in southern Italy, especially for the travellers of the Grand Tour. Especially Englishmen, but also other Gentiluomini from the north of Europe wanted to perfect their education here. They visited the ancient monuments, studied the art collections of Rome and Naples, and brought back to the north small souvenirs from their travels. The gem at hand here will have been created for just such an occasion. As a gift for a mistress or even a future wife, the work was wonderfully suitable: what better compliment could there be than to be compared to this beautiful goddess of the arts and wisdom through the gift of the image of Athena! In first-class condition, this gem in its gold setting is to be worn as a brooch. The round shape and the setting in the so-called archaeological style let us date the piece of jewellery to the years around 1870. It came to us in London.

Shells with mythological motifs were created especially in the 19th century in Italy for travellers on a Grand Tour. This so-called cavalier tour, which was supposed to perfect the education of the travellers, led to the antique buildings, to the art collections of Rome and Naples and the early tourists brought small souvenirs from their journey across the Alps, which were supposed to tell of the experiences of the Italian journey.

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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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