Hercules and Cacus

Early modern Lagenstein gem in a ring of the years around 1800

The desire to collect and own fine and precious cameos 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 in honor of Christian saints were decorated with these small representations of the ancient gods. With the rediscovery of antiquity during the Renaissance, cameos also gained 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 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 an equal footing 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. Cameos were collected again, the famous collection of Prince Poniatowski in Rome, for example, was created in these years. It, too, contained antique cameos alongside newly created pieces, which were intended to complement the pictorial worlds and complete the collection. But the 16th- and 17th-century cameos were now also sought as objects already antique and worthy of veneration. The ring presented here is an object from this period of Classicism's cameo enthusiasm. The elegant, antiquing setting of warmly gleaming yellow gold sets a layered agate in brown and white. The stone depicts a battle: Hercules, the great hero of antiquity, and Cacus, an evil giant of legend, are wrestling with each other. To defeat this fire-breathing son of the volcano was one of the almost impossible tasks which Hercules had to pass by order of the Oracle of Delphi. The cameo was created in the 16th or 17th century, as evidenced by its style and powerful cut. At that time, the myth of Hercules and Cacus was also very popular, as evidenced by Baccio Bandinelli's statue in front of the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence. The version was then redone in the years around 1800. On the history of the Cameo Collection, especially from the point of view of old and new, cf. for example the beautiful catalogue L'antica Manier. Zeichnungen und Gemmen des Giovanni Calandrelli in der Antikensammlung Berlin, ed. by Gertrud Platz-Horster, Berlin/Cologne 2005, and always Erika Zierlein-Diehl: Antike Gemmen und ihr Nachleben, Berlin 2007, here esp. ch. 21: Wirkungsgeschichte.

To possess antique cameos was the claim of almost all great collections for centuries: We find spectacular pieces as well in the Green Vault in Dresden, in the treasury of Rudolf II, up to the great private collections like that of Baron Stosch in later times. The 18th and 19th centuries produced numerous large imprint collections of antique seal stones and cameos, 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 impressions 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 cameo 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 cameo-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.

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