Saturday, January 17, 2009

Old Lady on Your Neck You Say?

Cameos, perhaps more then any other piece of jewellery are seen as the quintessential heirloom - not something we would purchase for ourselves, but certainly something we would gladly accept as a treasure passed down.

Perhaps because we are trying to distance ourselves from the traditional or the value we place on the innovative and the 'never-before-seen' that cameos have fallen to the wayside. However, it is undeniable that these gems are intriguing - what are these often haunting works of art?

Cameos are believed to date back to the ancient Egyptians, focused largely in Alexandria. Evolving out of the carving practices of the time, record keeping and communication, cameos carried a moral or ethical statement which the wearer intended on conveying to those around them.

Prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans, cameos depicted the gods and goddesses as well as other mythological figures. Living heroes and leaders were also popular subject matter.

One of the most famous surviving cameos of the time is the one to the right, a portrait of the Emperor Augustus, which now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Predominantly carved from stone, such as agate and sardonyx, that allowed carvings to have as many as three different tones.

During the Renaissance, the resurgence of Ancient Greek literature and art meant that cameos were again in fashion - often with the same set of themes which dominated that of the ancients. However, shell was now used in a large portion of cameos, especially in European and Mediterranean countries.

While cameos never really fell out of favor, they again entered the limelight in a big way with Queen Victoria adopting them as a favorite accessory. Cameos tied high on the neck with black ribbon back then may explain why cameos are now associated with the uptight and staunch.

However, the pure skill and artistic expression of these little treasures should never be underscored. Whether antique or new, these pieces possess an aura and personality like no other.

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