The scent of violets

Antique shell cameo with portrait of a lady in gold, around 1870

A young lady looks to the right. Her rich hair waves down in large curls deep into her neck, small curls adorn her forehead and frame her face. The ears are exposed. A velvet ribbon accentuates the narrow, long neck. The portrait, which has survived the passage of time so freshly in this shell, was created in the years around 1870. This is shown by a comparison with contemporary photographs such as that of the Comtesse de Pourtalès, a clever and wealthy salonnière in Paris during the Second Empire. Boni de Castellane reported of her in retrospect that she was " the true sovereign of Paris" and that her very name evoked the idea of "elegance and the scent of violets". The photograph was taken in 1868 and shows the Countess in a Renaissance costume. The type of hairstyle, which owed its volume with the help of inserted hairpieces, corresponds to the depiction of the brooch, even if the Countess has enriched the effect with some blossoms and feathers. The cameo was created as a souvenir of a trip to Italy. In the region at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, specialised artists made portraits of the travellers and carved them into shells. As souvenirs, these representations were given to loved ones back home. Here the shell is set in gold, in a simple frame that follows the Etruscan or Archaeological style fashionable at the time, with its clear forms and applied cord of gold. Who exactly is represented here, we unfortunately do not know. But her beauty and her face have now survived 150 years.

For centuries, the possession of cameos and gems was the claim of almost all great collections of decorative arts and chambers 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 antique imagery of glyptic almost in its entirety, as they were also an expression of a humanistic education. However, the art of gem-cutting has survived to this day in Italy, especially in the Bay of Naples, where it has been handed 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. Of particular importance for the transmission of stone and shell carving north of the Alps have always been travellers to Italy, who brought home impressions and cut stones as well as engraved shells from their educational journeys to enjoy.

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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.