Rare Finely Detailed Georgian Onyx Double Cameo Brooch
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Directory: Antiques: Decorative Art: Jewelry: Continental: Pre 1900: Item # 405482
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$325 SALE. Was $385.
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This exquisite double cameo shows the high quality and Neo-Classical subject matter we associate with the earliest years of the 19th century, so I believe it to be Late Georgian or Regency. Probable origin would be Italy, since the best carvers were there, though it reached us via a Massachusetts estate.
Double cameos are rare to begin with, and this one is also unusually large, ornately carved and imaginative. Its foreground figure is a warrior whose helmet has a ferocious feline on top - or perhaps the cat is on the head of the background figure. One or the other thus appears to be Heracles (aka Hercules), the ancient superhero noted for slaying lions and wearing their pelts. If he's at back, the helmeted figure is likely his patron Ares, god of war. If, on the other hand, Hercules is the helmeted figure, then the one in back is probably Queen Omphale (known to have borrowed the Nemetean lion's skin at times to make a fashion statement) - or the hero's later wife Dejanira - or perhaps his patron goddess Athena. The imagery on the shield at the extreme foreground is more straightforward: It shows a winged figure cracking a whip over a pair of horses pulling the chariot that signifies the sun's daily progress across the sky, thus the passage of time.
The cameo, which appears to be onyx, is seriously sizeable at 1 1/2 inches tall and 1 inch wide. The rope-twist frame, evidently gilt bronze, adds another 1/8 inch in each dimension. Both parts are very old, but the cameo and its present setting certainly didn't begin life together. The frame, characteristically Victorian, isn't really worthy of the cameo, nor is the fit perfect. Black epoxy holds the frame on and another epoxy line reveals repair to an old hairline fracture. Thankfully, the little crack did not extend into the carved area, which is crisp and pristine. Even the noses haven't been dinged and you know how common that flaw is.
No problems at all are apparent at the front, apart from age-appropriate loss of gilding to the frame and a slightly wavy joint of the bezel. This jewel is immediately wearable, although you may want to put it into a proper gold or silver frame. The price would of course be enormously higher if the cameo looked as perfect on the back as it does from the front. (The only other Hercules-in-lion-pelt cameo I've found currently online is merely of shell, rather than stone, but framed in gold and priced at $1,000.)
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