Who buys cupids?

Wonderful antique shell cameo with the so-called "cupid trader" in gold around 1830

Cameos of the 18th and 19th centuries have always been among our favorite pieces. These small reliefs are works of art in their own right, they show the world of Western culture in miniature. They reflect the educational aspirations of the upper classes of the Classicist era, and at the same time they reflect the enjoyment of art and the yearning for antiquity of those years like hardly any other genre. The present cameo of the 1830s is carved from shell and set in gold. It shows a scene that was well known to every traveler to Italy in the 18th century. Goethe also reports on it in his Italian Journey. It is a depiction of the so-called "Cupid Trader", which also became famous under the title "The Sale of the Gods of Love". The imagery of Roman antiquity produced this little scene, which is as heartbreakingly funny as it is graceful, and tells the following story: Wealthy ladies of antiquity who had difficulty finding the right man or simply wanted to fall in love, according to tradition, resorted to the help of little winged love helpers that could be purchased. In our scene we see a cupid dealer sitting on the left side holding a small cupid by the wings. She has taken the love helper from a playpen to present him appropriately. Cupid has already stretched out his little arms to begin his quest to plunge his new owner into the throes of a new, previously unknown love. Another little angel of love is still sitting in his enclosure. A third helper nestles against the customer's knee, apparently to see how it feels. A counselor stands helpfully by. With so much help, nothing can stand in the way of a new love! The model for the scene shown here in relief is an ancient wall painting that was found in 1759 in Stabia in the so-called Villa Arianna near Pompeii and Herculaneum during archaeological excavations. We show a contemporary, side-inverted reproduction from the 3rd volume of the "Antichità di Ercolano esposte" (Naples 1762), which probably served as a model for the piece of jewelry presented here. The scene became famous throughout Europe within a few years, and countless variations were created in prints, as paintings, and even in the medium of porcelain, in the Meissen manufactory, and even as cameos brought home by travelers from Italy. The brooch made of gold and silver with a touching motif is a beautiful piece of jewelry that not only takes us to the imaginary world of antiquity - but also allows itself in our time an amusing side blow to the eternal game of wooing and being wooed - even if you have already found your great love. The cameo found its way to us from an important Berlin collection.

Shells with mythological motifs were created especially in the 19th century in Italy, especially for travelers on a Grand Tour. This so-called cavalier tour, which was intended to perfect the education of travelers here, led to the ancient monuments, to the art collections of Rome and Naples and the early tourists brought from their journey small souvenirs across the Alps, which should tell of the experiences of the Italian journey.

We want you to be 100% satisfied! For that reason, we examine, describe and photograph all of our jewellery with the utmost care.

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.