Canova's Graces

Antique shellgemme in gold after Antonio Canova, Italy & Prague, around 1925

The fresco depicting the Three Graces was a minor sensation when it was uncovered in Pompeii in 1759: the mural, which had been buried by the ashes of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, had miraculously survived undestroyed. It shows a piece of the mythological imagery of Roman antiquity: the three Graces, the daughters of Zeus, dance together: they are called Euphrosyne (joyful), Thalia (festive) and Aglaia (the shining). Since its discovery, the fresco has been widely disseminated in the form of printed reproductions and thus quickly became known to a wider public. The 1920s shell gem shown here depicts the Dance of the Three Graces, but it does not follow the depiction of the Pompeiian fresco, as initially assumed. Although the piece was almost certainly created in the Bay of Naples, i.e. in the immediate vicinity of the original, the cameo shows the Graces after a famous work of classical sculpture. The model for our cameo is a relief by Antonio Canova from 1797. Canova, one of the most respected sculptors of his time and probably the most important representative of classicism, shows in his relief, which follows a preceding tempera painting, the three Graces dancing in front of Mars, the god of war, and Venus playing the lute (cf. illustration). Compared to the Pompeian model, Canova turns the central figure on its own axis in order to show all three dancers frontally, thus giving the scene considerably more verve and grace. He also added flowing robes and a wreath of roses above the head of the central figure; we see both in our cameo as well. The jewel shows the desire for antiquity and the enthusiasm for Roman antiquity that continued unabated into the 20th century. According to the stamping, the plain gold setting for the Italian-cut gem was made in Prague in the years around 1925. We immediately took the brooch to our hearts - and who wouldn't want to be accompanied by grace, splendour and festive joy? Cf. the illustrations of the artwork described in the Museo Canova in Possagno del Grappa in the Veneto.

For centuries, the possession of antique cameos and gems was an aspiration of almost all great collections, from the Green Vault in Dresden to the treasury of Rudolf II and large private collections such as that of Baron Stosch in later times. The 18th and 19th centuries produced numerous large imprint collections of ancient Roman and Greek seal stones and gems, which were able to represent the ancient imagery of glyptic almost in its entirety. Due to the great travels undertaken by young nobles and wealthy citizens during this period, the use of gems and cameos changed in the early 19th century to larger forms of jewelry, which were classic and sought-after souvenirs from Italy, cut in stone, shell, or Vesuvius lava.

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.