By the beard of Zeus

Antique shell gem of the father of the gods in gold brooch, around 1870

Gems of the 19th century are in a class of their own. Whereas in the centuries before antique cameos were kept in cabinets of the Kunstkammer and could only be admired by a few privileged people, stone carvings with classical motifs were newly produced in this era to be worn and admired as pieces of jewellery. As small, easily transportable reliefs with motifs from classical antiquity, previously only known from museums or well-known collections, they testified to the taste and education of their wearers. Many of these pieces of jewellery created in the 19th century are of an exceptionally high quality, as this brooch demonstrates. The classicism of the early 19th century had elevated all the achievements of antiquity in literature and architecture, science and art to the ideal. Thus our brooch was also created to pay tribute to this admiration of antiquity. The oval work with an excellently cut shell gem shows the head of Zeus, the father of the gods, in three-quarter profile. Zeus was the most powerful god of classical antiquity; he alone had to bow to unpredictable fate. His face in our gem is classically beautiful, with a striking profile and full of youthful masculine charm with a curly full beard, as is popular again today. Richly flowing leonine hair surrounds his head; his curls and each of his features are finely rendered in detail. A double wreath of oak leaves adorns the divine head. The artist skilfully used a curvature of the shell to give the representation a high three-dimensionality. Particularly beautiful in this cameo is the clear separation between the creamy white of the portrait and the darker ground of the polished conch shell. The Neapolitan gem engraver of the 1870s obviously based his depiction of the father of the gods on an antique model, such as those found in large numbers in the city's famous antique collections. The high-carat gold setting of the shell, which makes it wearable as a brooch, is forged from high-carat yellow gold. Additional fire gilding gives it a rich gold tone. A circumferential soldering shows the motif of the laurel wreath, also borrowed from antiquity. The design of the piece of jewellery, which is indebted to the so-called "archaeological style", allows it to be dated to the years around 1870.

Shells with mythological motifs were created especially in the 19th century in Italy for travellers on a Grand Tour. This so-called cavalier tour, which was supposed to perfect the education of the travellers, led to the antique buildings, to the art collections of Rome and Naples and the early tourists brought small souvenirs from their journey across the Alps, which were supposed to tell of the experiences of the Italian journey.

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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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