master of the world

Superb antique shell gem of Alexander the Great, around 1820

In earlier times, the boundaries between the world of men and the realm of the gods were quite fluid. In antiquity, for example, the emperor was often equated with a god: In Rome, Caesar was deified at his death; in Egypt, Pharaoh, as the son of the gods, was their representative on earth. A fascinating testimony to this blending of worlds is presented here. The spectacular gem of the years around 1820 shows us one of the greatest generals of antiquity, Alexander the Great, as a god. Or rather: as many gods. For the Macedonian, who in the course of his campaigns created an empire stretching from Greece to India and Egypt, is depicted here, following an ancient tradition, in the form of no less than four ancient deities. The youthful ruler looks to the right, his profile clear and beautifully cut from the shell. His bust seems to protrude from a cloud, which is the first sign of his divine status. On his back Alexander carries a quiver of arrows, identifying him as the personification of the god Apollo. We can already understand this as a reference to the dawn of a new age through Alexander, for Apollo was the god of light and spring. On his head Alexander then wears further attributes: We see him wearing the crown of rays of Helios, the sun god of Greece. He also wears the ram's horns of Zeus-Amon, a Roman form of the Egyptian sun god Amun-Re, and finally the Hemhem crown from Egypt, a crown that was worn especially by the Ptolemaic pharaohs of the land on the Nile, but also belongs to the iconography of some Egyptian deities. Alexander's association with all these deities is not accidental. They refer to the extent of his empire over almost the whole of the then known world. Alexander himself had visited the oracle of Amon in Egypt and thus installed himself as ruler of Egypt virtually through the god himself. Numerous ancient coins subsequently depict him with the ram's horns of Zeus-Amon. Our gem, which is to be worn as a brooch in a delicate gold frame, is thus full of references to the mythical world of antiquity. If you would like to reflect on these connections or simply be enchanted by the beauty and fineness of the work, this brooch is highly recommended.

To possess antique cameos and gems 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 gems, 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 gem 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 gem-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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