Castor & Pollux

Mannerist cameo: The Dioscuri in silver, c. 1600

Many heroes of the ancient sagas are still well known today. Some of our customers will also be familiar with the Dioscuri, known to us from many ancient pictorial works, such as the "Ildefonso Group", now kept in Madrid, or from the two large figures of the Horse Tamers, placed to the left and right of the staircase to the Capitol in Rome, marking the entrance to Capitol Square. The term Dioscuri derives from the Greek "Διόσκουροι" meaning sons of Zeus. In Greek mythology, this refers to the twin brothers Castor and Pollux. They lived an exciting and eventful life: for example, the brothers searched for the Golden Fleece together with Jason and the Argonaut, then they accompanied Heracles on his way to the Amazons and experienced some adventures, which the ancient authors tell us about. The end of the Dioscuri was brought about by a quarrel with his cousin Idas, broken off by Castor. Idas slew Castor, whereupon Pollux killed Idas' brother Lynceus. Zeus intervened by killing Idas with a lightning strike. Pollux grieved so much for his brother that he begged his father to take away his immortality so he could join Castor in the realm of the dead. Touched by so much love, Zeus made his son choose either to remain young forever and dwell among the gods, or to spend one day each with Castor in the subterranean realm of Hades (realm of the dead) and one day each in Olympus with the gods, aging and ultimately dying. Without thinking, Pollux chose the second option and from then on wandered back and forth between Olympus and Hades with his brother. Time and again, the touching story of the two brothers has been a subject in the arts, and it shows in the early modern cameo here, fabulously rendered. The stone carving follows the common Castor and Pollux portraits of Greek coinage in its depiction. The two brothers are depicted in relief, staggered one behind the other, and show themselves clothed in antique garb. Hair bands give the youthful figures an orderly appearance and their gaze wanders calmly into the distance, pondering. The oval stone work is set in a silver frame. Mythical creatures are set in scrollwork and small cartouches show Alberti heads. A two-coloured natural pearl in the form of a drop is attached to the rich framing and underlines the preciousness of the work. Goldsmith's work like this was popular in the late 16th century and into the following century; numerous pattern books and engravings circulated throughout Europe on this subject. See, for example, the so-called "Livre de Bijouterie", which is kept in the V&A in London. Held in this way, the two ancient heroes and symbols of brotherly love that an unknown stone cutter staged in this jewel in the years around 1600 can still be admired today.

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.