What is Cameo

What is Cameo       Cameo and Intaglio     Materials Used    Cameos: a work of art

Cameo-carving is one of the most striking activities of the artisan class in the world. The boundary between its handicraft and art is extremely slender and it is often surpassed by these men who are really the heirs of a long artistic traditions built up during centuries by the masters in cameo-carving since remote ages. Indeed, the cameo identifies itself today with minute works of carving on shells. Cameo has always meant every stone worked in relief, and more exactly the works in which are used the different layers of semiprecious stones for the differentiation of the colors in the various plans of the relief itself. So in the cameo the stone is carved from the front with the picture or profile in relief. Differently in the Intaglio the stone is carved from the rear with the background in relief.


Cameo and Intaglio

Cameos and intaglios were created for two different purposes. The cameo  is a decorative object, whose origins date back to the 3rd or 4th Century B.C. However, the intaglio was in use much earlier than the cameo as a stone seal, and it had a social purpose. At the dawn of the Roman Empire it also became a propaganda medium by reproducing the faces of political personalities. The ring with  carved stone or glass paste denoted membership of a political party.


Materials used

The cameos of the 19th century Roman school were always in hard stone (generally agate or sardonyx, because they had different colored layers), whereas cornelian, amethyst, aquamarine, green jasper and rock crystal were used for intaglios. The best Roman masters did not consider shells to be a precious material and they were only used later on, when the fashion for jewelry cameos led to their mass production at lower costs.


Cameos: a work of art

Unlike hard stones, which have a flat surface to work on and for which laser-cutting techniques with pantographs have been introduced in recent years, the convex form, depressions and protuberances of shells means they cannot be carved by hand alone. Every shell cameo is different from the other. They are all unique pieces, despite the fact that some objects are mass produced. The workshop makes the cameos in an assembly line: there are artisans specialized in carving hair, or hands, or noses, and the finished cameo is the result of the whole team's experience and skills. Obviously, this does not apply to the "master" carver: his or her hands manage to transform a piece of shell into elegant and precious sculptures, bas-reliefs with mythological scenes, delicate and diaphanous portraits. These are the true collectibles. But this is a difficult art which, according to many older masters, is unfortunately disappearing. Because this painstaking work is out of step with the frenetic rhythm of our times and with what the market demands.