The portrait of a gentleman

Victorian agate gem as brooch in gold setting, around 1845

A souvenir of the Grand Tour is this cameo in the centre of the present brooch. On the way to Italy, the Middle Rhine Valley was a stopover for many English travellers in the 19th century. The romantic landscape with its numerous castle ruins soon developed from a transit region on the classic educational tour to a first-class tourist address. As in Italy, specialised artists produced portraits of the travellers and carved them as gems. These portraits were given as souvenirs to loved ones back home. The town of Idar in particular, situated not far from the Rhine valley in the mountains of the Hunsrück, was known far beyond the borders of Germany as a centre of the art of stone carving. The artists who lived here specialized in working agate and created wonderful gems from the difficult-to-cut material. Our cameo, too, was most probably made in Idar-Oberstein and shows the portrait of a young man in profile. His curly hair is carefully coiffured. Obviously it is a representation of a gentleman who, inspired by the spirit of antiquity, had himself depicted in a Roman toga in the style of a senator. His hairstyle and curly whiskers, however, are entirely in keeping with the fashion of the 1840s. The gem is held by a simple setting of reddish gold. To this day, the well-preserved piece of jewellery bears witness to a Grand Tour and holds the portrait of an unknown person who had his face carved in layered agate. It came to us from London.

For centuries, the possession of cameos and gems was the claim of almost all great collections of decorative arts and chambers 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 seal stones and gems, which were able to represent the antique imagery of glyptic almost in its entirety, as they were also an expression of a humanistic education. However, the art of gem-cutting has survived to this day in Italy, especially in the Bay of Naples, where it has been handed 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. Of particular importance for the transmission of stone and shell carving 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 to enjoy.

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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.


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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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