Wedded bliss

Brooch with Philemon & Baucis on shellgemme in gold setting, around 1860

The present brooch shows us a domestic scene on a finely carved shell gem: An old married couple is depicted in their home, with all sorts of cosy household goods. While the standing woman lights an oil lamp, the man warms himself together with a cat at a coal basin. The two depicted are the best-known old married couple in ancient mythology: they are Philemon and Baucis. According to legend, the two lived happily but poorly in Phrygia. In his Metamorphoses, Ovid describes how Zeus, the father of the gods, accompanied by his son Hermes, visited Phrygia incognito as a wanderer - having grown tired, however, they were not granted entry anywhere. Only the old couple Philemon and Baucis practiced hospitality and entertained the unrecognized Zeus and Hermes with everything they had. But when their wine jug miraculously filled up again, the two recognized the divine visit and wanted to sacrifice their only whole in honor of the gods. Zeus, however, rewarded Philemon and Baucis and transformed their home into a magnificent temple where they would henceforth serve as priests. Moreover, when Zeus wished to grant them a wish, Philemon and Baucis asked only to be allowed to die at the same hour, so that neither would have to see the other's grave. This is how it was to happen: They served in the temple until one day, bent with age and together as always, they were transformed into two mighty trees and left their lives as men behind. As a symbol of a happy, shared life, the story of Philemon and Baucis also became the subject of the arts. In painting and literature we encounter the two of them again and again in intimate togetherness, as on our gem. As an example of the same pictorial theme, we reproduce a 17th century copperplate engraving after a painting by Jacob Jordaens. Our, probably Italian shell cameo shows the touching scene in fine detail. A simple setting of gold makes the small relief, created in the 1860s, wearable as a brooch.

Italy has been the longing destination of all inhabitants of the cold north for centuries. Its Mediterranean landscape and diverse art treasures also made the country the highlight of every Grand Tour. On this so-called cavalier tour, young aristocrats and later also wealthy citizens travelled to various countries in order to perfect their education, which was an indispensable ticket to the highest social classes. Since the 18th century, it was mainly the English, who had come to great wealth through their extensive colonial empire, who set out on the still arduous journey to the south. The region around the Gulf of Naples was a fixed point on the programme. Especially the ancient ruined cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum fascinated the travellers with their direct insight into ancient Roman everyday life and left a lasting impression on their taste. As a souvenir of such a stay at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, gems with mythological motifs were particularly popular, as the region of Naples was the leading centre of gem carving. Carved in stone, shell or coral, the gems were acquired by the travellers and often only set in their homeland.

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.