Love beyond death

Gold set shellgem with Orpheus & Euridike, Great Britain circa 1870

One of the most beautiful, but also most tragic love stories of classical antiquity is that of Orpheus and Euridice. The Thracian Orpheus was considered the best singer of antiquity; his singing was said to be so beautiful that he tamed wild animals and calmed even the stormy sea on the Argonaut's train. He was in love with the nymph Euridice. Virgil tells us that Eurydice died one day from the bite of a poisonous viper. Orpheus' love for her was so great that he descended into the underworld with his lyre in order to persuade the god Hades by his song to let Eurydice return with him to the living. Hades granted him the request on the condition that Orpheus must go ahead and not turn around after her until they both arrived back in the world of the living. As soon as Orpheus arrived back in the upper world, he impatiently turned to embrace Euridice again. He forgot, however, that at that moment she was still in the underworld; and so she disappeared into it again, this time for ever: "And quickly out of sight, as smoke dissolves into the air, she fled from thence," Vergil concludes the tale. The story has been widely received in Western culture over the centuries and has been the subject of numerous retellings, operas and paintings. Especially in the 19th century, which was particularly receptive to the tragedy of fateful love relationships, numerous works of art were created based on the Orphic legend. They always show the singer Orpheus with lyre, the nymph Euridike in a flowing white robe. Usually Orpheus strides ahead of Euridice up the path to the upper world; sometimes we also see the tragic moment when she slips away from him for the second time. All the more unusual, however, is the depiction on this gem, once cut in Italy and subsequently set as a brooch in Britain. Depicted with a fine, sculpted cut in shell, the motif, framed in gold, stands out white against the rosy layer of the shell: it shows the lovers exchanging a kiss in an intimate embrace. In this medium at least, the two are thus inseparably united - and have been for a century and a half.

Italy has been the longing destination of all inhabitants of the cold north for centuries. Its Mediterranean landscape and diverse art treasures also made the country the highlight of every Grand Tour. On this so-called cavalier tour, young aristocrats and later also wealthy citizens travelled to various countries in order to perfect their education, which was an indispensable ticket to the highest social classes. Since the 18th century, it was mainly the English, who had come to great wealth through their extensive colonial empire, who set out on the still arduous journey to the south. The region around the Gulf of Naples was a fixed point on the programme. Especially the ancient ruined cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum fascinated the travellers with their direct insight into ancient Roman everyday life and left a lasting impression on their taste. As a souvenir of such a stay at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, gems with mythological motifs were particularly popular, as the region of Naples was the leading centre of gem carving. Carved in stone, shell or coral, the gems were acquired by the travellers and often only set in their homeland.

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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.