For connoisseurs

Antique bracelet with unusual gems from "Vesuvius lava", around 1860

Bringing home a souvenir as a reminder of a trip to a faraway place is not an idea of our present day. The travelers to Italy in the 19th century also took souvenirs back to their home in the north. Goethe, for example, had entire boxes full of rare stones sent back to Weimar from his Italian trip, which are still part of the large mineral collection at the Haus am Frauenplan today. Far more handy and yet individual, however, were pieces of jewelry as souvenirs. In addition to micromosaics from Rome and pietra dura work from Florence, carved gems from the Bay of Naples in particular experienced a great fashion, whether in the material of the shell or, as in the bracelet here, made of coloured sedimentary rock, which was sold to tourists as lava from Vesuvius. The bracelet here presents seven finely cut cameos made of just that material. The lava shows particularly beautiful color shades from olive green to beige, white and brown. In small format, the heads of ancient gods and goddesses are reproduced here in profile. But it is not the usual inhabitants of Olympus we find here: Obviously the former buyer wanted to prove her knowledge of ancient mythology here and purposefully reached for special examples of the world of gods in the selection. The round dance begins on the far left with Diana, the goddess of hunting, recognizable by the crescent moon on her forehead. She is followed by a goddess with veil, probably Demeter. Called Ceres by the Romans, she was the Greek goddess of fertility; a well-known representation can be found in the Palazzo Altemps in Rome. She is now followed by Hermes with wings on his helmet. Then Zeus in the depiction of Zeus Serapis, an iconography originating in Egypt, which merges the father of the gods of Greece with the Egyptian god Osiris. He can be recognized by his typical headgear. The almost white gem to the right of Zeus could be Hera, Zeus' wife and sister with a diadem in her hair. Then Chronos with the sickle, a representation that only emerges in the early modern period and combines the personification of time with the representation of the Titan Kronos. From this developed both the ideas of the Grim Reaper and "Father Time" in the English-speaking world. Finally, on the clasp, there is a youthful beauty that has puzzled us as well. She is backed by a representation that could be a sun disk: Is Apollo perhaps meant here, the god of light in Greek and Roman mythology? It is a whole panorama of the ancient world, telling of the sagas and events, the struggles and the joys of the past. For the traveller, even after years, it offered the possibility of returning, at least in thought, to that distant world and to the places of his longing in Italy. We discovered the bracelet that sets the cameos in gilt tombac in London. Its particular iconography and fine cut immediately captivated us. For dating and further information on this type of jewellery, see Charlotte Gere/Judy Rudoe: Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria, London: British Museum Press 2010, p. 494.

Jewellery made from gemstones of coloured stone was a popular souvenir of a trip to the south of Italy in the 19th century. The material was considered to be the "lava" of Vesuvius and reminded of the sinking of Pompeii in 79 AD when the city sank under lava and ash of this volcano. The ruined cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which sank and were miraculously rediscovered, were a fixed item on the itinerary of every Italian trip in the 19th century and offered a very direct impression of ancient Roman everyday life. Jewellery made from the material of these places could thus become a beautiful, perhaps also somewhat macabre souvenir. Jewellery of all qualities was created, from simple small brooches to large parures. That lava as souvenir jewellery was in no way considered inferior in the eyes of contemporaries is shown by the fact that pieces made of lava can also be found in the oeuvre of such famous goldsmiths as the Castellani. Augusto Castellani, Fortunato Pio's son, describes in his book Delle gemme. Notizie raccolte, Florence 1870, p. 138, the so-called lava of Vesuvius, among other materials, as a known source material for cameo work in the Naples area.

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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.