Most people associate antique cameos with jewellery but they can also be found in other forms. Antique cameos can be found in ceramics, antique seals and other art forms.
Cameos are a miniature, sculptural work of art, depicting portraits and scenes of the time. A cameo is a carving which stands out from its background. If the carving is carved into the surface it is known as an Intaglio. This is usually found in antique seals.
History of Cameos
Early forms of intaglios and cameos can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptians, but the cameos and intaglios which we are familiar with today can be recognised in the civilisations of Ancient Greece and Rome.
Around 1600-1100 BCE, the Mycenaeans in Greece, Cyprus and Crete were producing intaglios set in well-crafted gold work.
Gemstones such as quartz, carnelian and chalcedony were often carved. This art of carving gemstones was nearly lost with the fall of Mycenae but was revived by the Greeks between the eleventh and eighth centuries. The cameos and intaglios carved during this era tended to be engraved by hand and were of quite simple design.
Throughout the Roman Empire, cameos were popular fashion accessories which were worn as jewellery, helmets, sword handles and brooches on ceremonial dress.
Cameos were also used on rings, crowns, vases, cups and many other decorative wares.
Cameos often depicted nobles and other high class personage.
During the Roman period the cameo technique was used on artificial glass blanks, in imitation of objects being produced in agate or sardonyx. Cameo glass objects were produced in two periods; between around 25 BC and 50/60 AD, and in the later Empire around the mid-third and mid-fourth century.
Roman glass cameos are rare objects, with only around two hundred fragments and sixteen complete pieces known, only one of which dates from the later period. During the early period they usually consisted of a blue glass base with a white overlying layer, but those made during the later period usually have a colourless background covered with a translucent coloured layer.
Blanks could be produced by fusing two separately cast sheets of glass, or by dipping the base glass into a crucible of molten overlay glass during blowing. The most famous example of a cameo from the early period is the Portland Vase.
In the Dark and Middle Ages, a new type of cameo became popular. This is known as motto cameo and the carvings included persanal phrases or mottos cut in a circle on a stone.
The Renaissance period saw a new interest in classicism and many cameos were influence by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. It also saw the beginning of the shell cameo. Until the Renaissance era, cameos were carved from hardstone
The Renaissance cameos are typically white on a greyish background and were carved from the shell of a mussel or cowry, the latter a tropical mollusc.
Today, most of the antique cameos which can be found on the market are from the Georgian and Victorian era.
Popular Materials for making Cameos
There are many types of materials which have been used to create cameos. These include glass, hardstone, shell, and lava as well as precious stones such as rubies, diamond, emeralds and sapphires although these are very rare.