The allure of antiquity

Antique shell cameo of the goddess of victory as brooch, around 1870

Cameos cut into shells have been one of the ornamental souvenirs of a trip to Italy since the 19th century. In the Bay of Naples, a whole branch of the craft developed. However, the finely cut cameos were often only set in the home country of the travellers and thus made into jewellery. Due to the format of the cameo as a detailed, narrative work of art, they were usually set as brooches. The motifs of the cameos did not usually originate from the imagination of the cameo cutters, but were worked by them according to printed models. Especially motifs of classical mythology were suitable, as the reason and purpose of the journey was often a so-called Grand Tour, on which the travellers discovered the buildings and works of art of ancient Rome in order to perfect a classical education. Here probably an old Roman coin was the godfather for the unusual, otherwise untraceable image. The cameo shows Nike or Victoria, the ancient goddess of victory. She is usually depicted steering a quadriga and holding a torch, but in Roman micromosaics and on Roman coins she is more often seen with the attribute of the palm frond as a symbol of victory. A Roman coin from 47 BC (British Museum, 2002,0102.4506) also shows the winged Victoria with her palm frond, unusually flying amid her four horses and in exactly the pose seen here. There are few other known cameo from the second half of the 19th century with this exact motif. Probably a copy of this ancient coin or a print inspired by it was available to the workshop. The setting with its fine cord soldering not only allows us to date the brooch, but is also a reference to antiquity, as it shows itself in the so-called Etruscan Revival Style, which was particularly popular in England. The cameo is very well preserved. A wonderful piece of jewellery with rich references to antiquity!

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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.