Since ancient times, the cameo has never stopped riding the centuries, establishing itself as the royal jewel par excellence. The art of cameo carving has long origins; it is an artistic creation, a carving, on stone or shell representing mythological scenes, everyday life and historical events. The word cameo comes from the Arabic gama’il meaning “flower bud,” and it was later the French who altered the word by coining the term camaheu, but let’s proceed in order.


the cameo over time

Engraving is a very ancient art, dating back to the Mycenaean civilization in Greece. However, it was with the Greeks and Romans that the practice and use of cameo carving became widespread. The Greeks, in particular, were excellent carvers of hard stones such as turquoise, chalcedony, jasper and carnelian. One of the masterpieces of this era is certainly the Farnese Cup made of sardonyx stone. When Greek culture was absorbed by Roman culture, cameo art became part of Roman art. During this period there will be many outstanding works, one of which is the Gemma Augustea: a cameo carved on an onyx stone made in honor of Emperor Caesar Octavianus Augustus.

After the Roman period, the spotlight is turned off on cameo art. The cause was the Christian religion, which, during the Middle Ages, tried to hinder the depiction of mythological scenes.

It was the Renaissance, thanks to the attention and rediscovery of classicism, that promoted the cameo as a royal jewel to be worn. Thanks to Lorenzo De Medici, a school that produced magnificent cameos was founded and they are preserved in the National Archaeological Museum in Florence. Italian glyptic art swept through European courts, and soon Madrid, London, Vienna, and Prague were adorned with unique pieces of Italian manufacture. During the reign of Elizabeth I the cameo became an object to be given from generation to generation in the form of a pendant or brooch.

Cameos enchanted even Napoleon, who wore a cameo at his own wedding. In the early 1800s the French capital also turned its attention to this artistic technique and, thanks to the French emperor, a glyptic school was promoted and it competed with the Italian one.

However, the world record of master engravers is held by the town of Torre del Greco, which still holds this title high today. Beginning in the 1700s, carving techniques were applied to sea shells and coral. Thanks to ships arriving from the port of Naples from the East and Africa carrying all sorts of materials, new varieties of shells were discovered. Those most suitable for engraving were those from Madagascar, Mozambique, and the Caribbean. Although the shells used come from different geographical areas, the art of knowing how to carve them with skill and mastery remains the prerogative of Torre del Greco.

As evidence of this, Napoleon Bonaparte owned a sword adorned with 10 coral cameos crafted in Torre del Greco. The sword was given to him as a gift by his younger sister Maria Annunziata Carolina, wife of Joachim Murat and queen consort of Naples (1808-1815).

Cameos also adorned one of England’s most famous rulers, Queen Victoria, who was known for her passion toward cameos. In fact, during the Victorian era (1837-1901) these jewels were mass-produced, and in the 1850s their demand grew thanks to the Grand Tour, spreading to the middle class as well.

In conclusion, the use of cameo over the centuries has extended to the simpler social classes as well, abandoning the idea that it was a purely royal object. Nowadays, the cameo, in spite of its centuries-old tradition of elegance, is a piece of jewelry that adapts to various female tastes,updating to pret-à-porter and casual jewels of young people. In addition, engraving in the shell or coral makes it possible to create a unique and personal bijou.


How about you? What are you waiting for? Treat yourself to the joy of wearing a timeless piece of jewelry, an icon of elegance! Come discover our  wide collection of cameos.

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