Angel of the Eternal City

First Class Gold Brooch with Cameo of Shell, Around 1870

Come with us on a journey to Rome, to the Eternal City. Here, in the two thousand year old metropolis on the Tiber, a whole new fashion in the field of jewellery emerged in the middle of the 19th century. Goldsmiths such as the masters of the Castellani family created here - for the first time in the history of modern times - objects in the style of antiquity, based on precious pieces from Etruscan tombs and Roman models, which thus made the jewellery and beauty of antiquity very tangible for the world of women. This jewellery in the so-called Archaeological style was a great success. As a reference to its own great history, it attracted great interest. Like Germany, Italy had only grown together into a unified nation state in the 19th century. Jewellery in these so particularly Italian forms (at the same time modern and never seen before) showed there at the same time the own history and large cultural tradition, whose inheritance one was. A particularly well preserved, first class and in a very typical way designed piece of jewellery of this style is presented here. It is a brooch made of high-carat gold with a particularly vividly cut shell cameo. The wide frame bears rich ornamentation based on antique models, typical of this style: we see a succession of granulated circles, polished rods and twisted cords that give the frame its beautiful play of light and shade. The cameo shows an angel, a putto, carrying a small plaque with the inscription "ROMA". The carving leaves the plane of relief and is many more like a plastic sculpture. The white of the depiction arches over the brown ground and the angel's head is almost free-plastic. From left and right he offers different, detailed views and yet is delicate and beautiful in his childlike forms. This unique Roman combination of antiquity and Christianity is typical of Archaeological style jewellery from Rome. Here, in the city of emperors and popes, one could hardly exist without the other. And apparently this connection was still so vivid in the 19th century that the gallant ladies or the visitors of the city felt just this connection as typical for Rome and therefore liked to acquire jewellery with these motifs. The brooch is very well preserved and was obviously always kept in honor. All the shapes are so clear that it is hard to believe that this piece was also made by hand. It was created in the years around 1870. On the exemplary works of the Castellani and on dating, see e.g. Susan Weber Soros/Stefani Walker (eds.): Castallani and Italian Archaeological Jewelry, New Haven/London 2004, e.g. pp. 16ff, also David Bennet and Daniela Mascetti: Understanding Jewellery, Woodbridge 2010, pp. 187f.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, the forms of truly ancient jewellery were still unknown. Neither in the Renaissance nor in Classicism had excavations produced genuine jewellery of the ancients. The designs of these epochs had merely been approximations to an ideal that had to be derived from other contexts such as architecture. This changed abruptly with the discovery of genuine Etruscan jewellery beginning in the 1820s in Italy. Princess Alexandrine of Canino, for example, was known to enjoy wearing some original Etruscan jewellery found at her country estate near Rome, to the envy of her friends. But the number of pieces, which were all chance finds, remained small and only a fraction of the ladies could still own original, millennia-old Etruscan jewellery. Therefore, the goldsmiths of those years soon began to produce pieces of jewellery according to ancient forms that were now finally known. Especially Pio Castellani from Rome and his sons excelled in this field and designed jewellery which became a well-known trademark and a true fashion all over Europe from the middle of the century on. In Germany and Austria, corresponding pieces were created from the mid-1860s onwards. On the Castellani jewellery, see in detail Susan Weber Soros/Stefani Walker (eds.): Castallani and Italian Archaeological Jewelry, New Haven/London 2004.

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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.


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.