Family Idyll

First-class shell cameo: Ariadne & Bacchus in gold, Italy circa 1830

The cameo at the centre of this brooch is impressively vivid and richly detailed. The oval engraving in a conch shell depicts well-known figures from classical mythology, whose unusual lives inspired operas and plays and who have been depicted in countless works of art through the ages. Depicted are Ariadne, the daughter of the Cretan king Minos, and Bacchus, the god of wine and carousing. Ariadne is best known for the help she gave the Attic hero Theseus in defeating the Minotaur and escaping from the famous labyrinth. Our extraordinary gem, however, shows the king's daughter during another episode of her life: Homer reports that Theseus sailed with Ariadne from Crete to Athens, where he intended to marry her. However, for reasons that are not entirely comprehensible, the hero abandoned his plan - and eventually left the beautiful woman alone on the island of Naxos. The abandoned and desperate Ariadne then fell into a deep sleep on the island's beach. There she was found by the wine god Bacchus, Dionysus in Greek, who immediately fell in love with her beauty and took her as his wife. From then on, Ariadne was the leader of the wine god's entourage and appeared as such in the god's orgiastic cult processions, the so-called Bacchanalia. It is as the wife of Bacchus that we see Ariadne depicted here: The two main figures are seated on a brick bench, the wine god playing with a child and holding grapes over his head, which the boy tries to reach for. The child is probably Oinopion, the son of Ariadne and Dyonisos. Ariadne herself carries the staff of Tysos and a panther is assigned to her as a companion animal of the Bacchanalia. An urn on a column closes the family scene to the right. In the collection of the Polish prince Stanislas Poniatowski, there is a gem which also shows Ariadne and Bacchus and is constructed very similarly. Our piece has probably been cut after this famous piece and enriches the scene with further details. (Cf. L'antica maniera. Drawings and Gems by Giovanni Calandrelli in the Antikensammlung Berlin, Cologne 2005, plate 12, p. 148.) The gem, which can be dated to around 1830 on the basis of its cut and gold setting, is made of bicoloured shell. The subject stands out white against the translucent salmon background. An elaborate framing of gold holds the gem. This wonderfully preserved piece of jewellery was probably created in Italy in the years around 1830 and is a small masterpiece whose excellent workmanship is immediately impressive.

The desire to collect and own fine and precious gems unites all times from antiquity to the present. Even the "ancients" (according to Goethe's dictum) collected stone-cut portraits of famous men, representations of the gods and scenes from mythology. All later generations treasured these works: In the Middle Ages, even precious reliquaries honoring Christian saints were adorned with these small representations of the ancient gods. With the rediscovery of antiquity during the Renaissance, cameos and cameos also received new attention: all at once a veritable collectors' market emerged and the antique pieces, which were always rare, were barely enough to satisfy demand. No wonder, then, that numerous new cameos were produced, some of them by the most famous artists of the time. In some cases, the newly created objects were put on a par with the venerated old pieces, and in no case were they made with the intention of forgery (although this also occurred, of course). Finally, in the years around 1800, history repeated itself anew. Gems were collected again, the famous collection of Prince Poniatowski in Rome, for example, was created in these years. It, too, contained antique gems alongside newly created pieces, which were intended to complement the pictorial worlds and complete the collection.

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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.

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