Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Cameo

Most anyone associates a cameo with the brooch worn at a high lace collar during the Edwardian period. In fact, the term cameo actually refers to a gem carving or engraving method that creates a piece of wearable jewelry through the formation of a raised relief image.
Roman cameos.Made of agate or onyx, these cameos were popular between 25 BCE and 60 CE. These are frequently also known as glass cameos. A famous example of this period is the Gem of Augustus. It is a half-inch thick and features Augustus Caesar ruling over the allegorical representation of the pantheon and the known world in submission to Rome.
Religious cameos of the Middle Ages. In the period spanning from the 5th to the 15th century, cameo carving was a favorite art form among the creators of holy votive crowns and chattel that would be used during high mass. A famous example is the Lothair Cross, which was manufactured around the year 1000. It features an Augustus cameo at its center. Made of onyx, the cameo displays Roman Emperor Augustus.
Shell cameos. The heydays for the shell cameo were the 15th and 16th centuries. Artisans would carve shells of mussels or mollusks. Popularity for these pieces of art remained strong even into the 19th century.
Hellenistic cameos of the Renaissance. Usually dated sometime between the late Middle Ages and the 17th century, the Renaissance saw the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo daVinci. It also saw an uptick in the creation of cameo carvings. The favored motif bar none was anything having to do with Hellenistic themes. Ancient Greek mythology, the explorations of Alexander the Great and famous characters from literature and theatre set the backdrops for these works of art.
Royal patrons of the arts. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the tastes of monarchs and nobles dictated the design, material use and motif choice of the cameo.
In an interesting twist, most patrons of the arts requested artisans to manufacture cameos in the old Roman style and design. In an effort to portray themselves as collectors rather than contemporary art buyers, they would even artificially age their cameos. Polish noble Stanislaw Poniatowski is said to have ordered some 2,500 cut gems. He put out rumors that these gems were actually antiques.
Modern cameos no longer require the painstaking attention to detail that marked the artisanship of the old masters. The use of the ultrasonic mill has now largely automated the process of cameo carving. In some modern portraits, the use of this machine has sadly contributed to the creation of somewhat bland features that lack the detailed depiction of hair and facial features so prominently displayed on hand-carved pieces. Due to the time investment in the process and the availability of machines, the number of artisans who preserve the artistry involved in hand carving has gone down in number quite considerably.
Peter Suchy Jewelers located at 1137 High Ridge Road in Stamford Connecticut invites you to visit our showroom and check out our inventory of vintage and estate cameo pieces.
We also hope you’ll like us on Facebook and add us to your circles on Google+. Looking to browse cameo jewelry online—visit our eBay store!

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