The History of Cameo: a Work of Art

tazza farnese

Even though the word CAMEO appeared only in the XII century, this kind of jewel was greatly appreciated in the Hellenic age. In the epoch were used the semi-precious stones sardonyx and cornelian, much prized particularly for the different shades of color that the artist could make the most of in suggestive contrast: white, yellow, brown and reddish. For instance, the famous  "Tazza Farnese" is a cameo, the masterpiece of the Alexandrian art. It belonged to Lorenzo the Magnificent and is actually kept in the National Museum of Naples.á

During the Roman age, cameo-carving became still more refined, accurate and elegant, because it found a fertile field in the Emperor's Court. Augustus gemma augusteabrought in Rome, from the East, Dioscurides, whose masterpiece, the "Gemma Augustea" is in the Museum of Vienna. From the V to the XIII century this art  flourished again in the Italian Renaissance. In Naples, at Ferdinand of Aragon's Court, lived the most famous cameo-carvers, Andrea di Mosnago and Battista Taglia. To the latter was entrusted, in 1488, the care of engraving the royal seal as his quality of master in cameo-carving.  the cameo in the XVI century, during which Italian artists were called to serve the greatest European monarchs: from Valerio Belli to Giovanni Bernardi, to Alessandro Cesati.

Throughout all the history, persons of royalty have set the tone for jewelry fashion. It is said that also Queen Elizabeth loved to wear cameos and it is noted that Catherine the Great had a very impressive collection of them. The cameo survived the whims of changing fashion during the Nineteenth Century in England. Since Queen Victoria favored cameos, the cameo was quite popular during and since her reign. They were popular as pins and pendants usually worn on a black velvet ribbon or even sometimes-pastel satin ribbons. During the Victorian Era, (1837-1901) every decade had its jewelry trends, but the cameo remained a favorite.

At present, cameo-carving is no longer performed on semi-precious stones, but on sea-shells. The center of this industry is at Torre del Greco, at the foot of Vesuvius, where the cameo and coral carving factory of Scognamiglio family, CASCO s.r.l., is located. Here hundreds of artists and craftsmen work according to the ancestors' tradition.


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