Adultery among gods

Venus and Mars in the forge of Vulcan, shell cameo in gold around 1870

An unusual cameo depicting a momentous scene from Greek mythology comes to view in this offering: In beautifully detailed cut, the shell of a carnelian shell is used to vary a familiar theme of antiquity that has been taken up by various artists through the centuries, it is, after all, particularly delicate: On our shell-gem we see to the left the smith-god Vulcan in his forge, hammering on an anvil, while his wife, the half-naked Venus, is seated beside him. But her wife's attention is not on the weapons her husband Vulcan is forging - but rather on the young man who enters the scene from the right and identifies himself by his attributes as the god of war Mars! The Cupid boy, constant companion of the goddess of love Venus, makes this clear by an excited gesture. He points to the athletic man, whose excellent, upright, and defined physique especially sets him apart from the stooped and elderly-looking Vulcan. And the appearance of the beautiful Mars does not seem to miss its effect. The gaze of the two deities meets over the Cupid boy and the adultery which begins in this scene and of which Homer reports takes its course: Venus will begin an affair with Mars and Vulcan will be left as the cuckolded husband. The shell shows the interesting motif from the mythical world of Greek antiquity in grandiose execution. A British setting in gold, like the shell created in the years around 1870, turns the scene into a brooch.

For centuries, possessing antique cameos and gems was the claim of almost all great collections of decorative arts and cabinets of curiosities, from the Green Vault in Dresden and the treasury of Rudolf II to large private collections such as that of Baron von Stosch in later times. The 18th and 19th centuries produced numerous large imprint collections of antique sealstones and gems, which were able to represent the ancient imagery of the antique glyptic almost in its entirety, as they were also an expression of a humanistic education. Often figures of the Olympian heaven of gods or mythological scenes were the subject of the representations. 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 cut 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 large-scale training centre for gem-cutters in Italy in the world, although unfortunately the mythological theme has been lost.

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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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