Tender Caresses

Brooch with shell cameo of Hebe set in gold, around 1850

This brooch dates from around 1850, a time when gem jewellery was particularly popular. The high oval piece in an elaborate frame of gold shows a finely cut gem of bicoloured shell on the front. It depicts a scene from classical mythology: we see the youthful Hebe in peaceful coexistence with Zeus, the father of the gods, in the form of an eagle. In an artistic cut, the gem cutter has captured Hebe as the goddess of youth at her most important task in the heaven of the gods: She is cupbearer to the Olympian gods and responsible for the preparation of food. Here she serves her father Zeus a bowl of the gods' ambrosia and a decanter of nectar. Hebe is dressed in a peblos and Zeus as a mighty eagle has sat down on an altar in front of her to take the offered food. In Homer, nectar and ambrosia occur regularly in the Iliad and Odyssey as the immortalizing food of the gods. In the course of mythological tradition, Hebe is said to have been replaced in this task after her marriage to Heracles by the Trojan prince Ganymede, who then became cupbearer to the gods. The gold setting is stylistically indebted to the late Biedermeier period and was created north of the Alps, while the shell carving was certainly a souvenir from a trip to Italy. A wonderful piece of jewellery and a reminiscence of classical antiquity in one!

For centuries, possessing antique cameos and gems was the claim of almost all great collections of decorative arts and cabinets of curiosities, from the Green Vault in Dresden to 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 ancient imagery of antique glyptic almost in its entirety, as they were also an expression of a humanistic education. Often figures of the Olympian heaven of gods or mythological scenes were the subject of the representations. Of particular importance for the transmission of stone and shell carvings north of the Alps have always been travellers to Italy, who brought home impressions and carved stones as well as engraved shells from their educational journeys in order to enjoy the stories that the shells could tell. The art of gem-cutting has survived to this day in Italy, especially in the Bay of Naples, where it has been passed 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 in the world, although unfortunately the mythological theme has been lost.

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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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