Unequal sisters

Detailed antique shell cameo as brooch in silver, Italy circa 1890

The cameo here shows two young ladies in a detailed cut in a central position: One awake, the other asleep - both beautiful as dreams. They are allegories of day and night, the goddesses Eos and Nyx. Classical antiquity already knew these personifications of the dawn and the dark night. As a pair of opposites, they have always inspired artists and remained the subject of the visual arts. In this cameo, which was created in Italy around 1890, we encounter day and night as unequal sisters: Day, on the left in the picture, is looking ahead, wearing blossoming roses in her hair and a rising sun on her chest. Night, on the other hand, dreaming with closed eyes, is depicted behind the dawn. Opium poppies adorn her hair and a crescent moon and stars appear above her veiled head. Thus this brooch celebrates the cycle of time, and the endless alternation of light and dark, of day and night. All the details are especially finely cut into the shell's two-tone shell. The figures of the two goddesses and all the details are vividly rendered and stand out finely against their darker background. The cameo is part of a large gem collection that we were able to purchase here in Berlin.

To possess antique cameos and gems has been the ambition of almost all great collections for centuries: We find spectacular pieces in the Green Vault in Dresden, in the treasury of Rudolf II, to the great private collections such as that of Baron Stosch in later times. The 18th and 19th centuries produced numerous large imprint collections of antique seal stones and gems, which represent the antique imagery of glyptic almost in its entirety. Thus they were not least an expression of a humanistic education. Of particular importance for the transmission of stone and shell carvings north of the Alps have always been travellers to Italy, who brought home imprints 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 professional training centre in the world for gem-cutters, although unfortunately the mythological theme has almost been lost as a subject.

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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.

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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.