Helena in Dispute

Small shell cameo of Menelaus in gold setting as pendant and brooch, around 1980

We know Menelaus' story from Homer's Iliad. According to the story, he was the king of Sparta who married the beautiful Helen. After her abduction by Paris, he gathered a large army and led it to Troy to reclaim his wife, which he finally succeeded in doing. The famous Pasquino group on the north side of Piazza Pantaleo in Rome depicts a scene from the war. It depicts the moment when Menelaus was guarding the body of Patroclus, Achilles' companion in arms, on the battlefield outside Troja. Here, too, Menelaus' head is proudly raised. It is probably his bravery as a warrior during the Trojan war that is shown here. Menelaus is easily recognizable by his helmet, which also resembles the Phrygian cap. For every hero of the Trojan War is already distinguished in ancient art by his headdress. We reproduce a drawing after Tischbein, which shows the heroes side by side. The probably Italian gem engraver skillfully used the different layers of the shell to depict Menelaus' hair and beard in beautiful detail. The facial features stand out in fine sculpted white against the background of brown. Framing this beautiful work is a simple setting of gold, making the cameo wearable as a pendant and brooch.... We date the jewelry to the 1980s due to the modern gold stamp, which was used in Italy in this form only from 1968.

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 traveled to various countries in order to perfect their education, which was an indispensable ticket to the highest social strata. Since the 18th century, it was mainly the English, who had achieved great wealth through their extensive colonial empire, who set out on the still arduous journey to the south. A fixed point on the program was the region around the Gulf of Naples. Above all, the ancient ruined cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, with their direct insight into ancient Roman everyday life, thrilled the travelers and left a lasting impression on their tastes. As a souvenir of such a stay at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, especially gems with mythological motifs were popular, since the region of Naples was the leading center of gem carving. Cut in stone, shell or coral, the gems were acquired by the travelers and often set only in their homeland.

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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.


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.