This graceful cameo is hand-carved in the southern Italian town of Torre del Greco, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, using the pink and ivory of the conch shell. The artist delicately carves away the outer layer of the shell to shape a young woman’s profile. Cameos became popular souvenirs for English tourists visiting the newly rediscovered ruins of Pompeii during the Elizabethan era. Sterling silver. Signed by the artist.
Approx. 1"L x 5/8"W.
Cameos have been popular for more than six millennia. Carvings have been found in Mesopotamia and Minoan Crete. Early Greek and Roman carvings in gems and precious stones depicted mythological themes and idealized images of women. Pope Paul II, known during the Renaissance for his love of flashy jewelry, was a devoted cameo collector. They've adorned military helmets, signet rings, brooches, dishes and vases, and much more.
Shell cameos reached new heights of popularity during the mid 1800s. When the ruins of Pompeii were excavated starting in the 1740s, it became a must-see destination with England's elite. Cameos made from the shells harvested by local fishermen were one of the most frequent souvenirs to show off one's well-traveled, cultural status back home.
Cameos remained popular throughout the 19th-century Victorian era. Queen Victoria was often seen wearing shell cameos as well as jasperware ones made by Josiah Wedgwood. Cameos featuring the profile of a beautiful womaneither a commissioned portrait or an anonymous idealized figurebecame especially popular during the 19th century.
It was during this time that the southern Italian fishing village of Torre del Greco, at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius less than 10 miles from Pompeii, became known for producing some of the best shell cameos in the world. Since shells are inexpensive and easy to carve, Italian cameos were deemed appropriate for daytime wear and started to be appreciated for their artistry more than their sparkle.
Harvesting coral, or "red gold," had been Torre del Greco's main industry for a century, but in 1805 the king of Naples granted a 10-year exclusive license on the harvesting of coral and shells to a Frenchman named Paolo Bartolomeo Martin. Martin set up the first cameo-producing workshop and the entire industry took off. Today Torre del Greco is a popular resort town, with old noble summer palaces on the outskirts, but cameo production remains its specialty.