Bonhams on New Bond Street in London will be auctioning off a collection of rare and historic cameos and intaglios at their Fine Jewelry Sale on September 17, 2014. Some of the cameos date as far back as the 4th century B.C.
It is being referred to as the “The Ceres Collection” and it is made up of more than 101 engraved cameo and intaglio rings, worth a combined estimated $171,568. The collection is being sold without reserves.
Selection of cameos and intaglios from the Ceres Collection, photo courtesy of Bonhams.
An American family assembled the collection over a 60 year period, from the 1930’s to the 1990’s, with the pieces ranging in date from the 4th century B.C. to the Renaissance period and through to the 19th century.
World renowned expert Richard Falkiner, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, says: “This collection was formed over the last century and with consummate taste. The dispersal at auction of a formidable collection of Glyptics (derived from the Classical Greek word:to cut) is a rare event indeed. These cameos and intaglios, soon to find a new home, have the advantage that they are wearable”. Mr. Falkiner concludes, “there is a small pool of the finest examples of cameo and intaglio gems available, thus Bonhams’ sales of the Ceres Collection is an opportunity to own a gem from this magical subject. It is an opportunity which may not occur again from a very long time indeed.”
Several gems depict the Roman deity Ceres, goddess of fertility and the harvest, who in turn, lends her auspicious name to the collection and hopes for a fruitful September sale.
The engraved gems depict in miniature a broad range of subjects, from gods and goddesses of the ancient world, Greek and Roman mythological scenes, to portraits of historical figures including, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Julius Caesar, Hercules and Medusa, all are carved in intricate detail. All of the cameos and intaglios have been mounted into rings to make them wearable pieces of jewelry.
The oldest piece is a 2,500 year old Hellenistic garnet cameo of a head, dating from the 4th century B.C., expected to sell for up to $8,579. Another interesting piece expected to bring the same price is a Renaissance Revival gold, enamel and agate cameo ring from the mid to late 19th century that depicts Brutus on a neo-Renaissance gold mount.
A view of the underside of a Renaissance Revival gold, enamel and agate cameo ring from the mid-19th century depicting Brutus. It’s expected to fetch $8,579. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.
A sardonyx cameo of a Roman lady circa 1st-2nd century A.D., the “piece de resistance” of the sale, according to Bonhams. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.
The pièce de résistance of the collection is a cameo depicting a Roman lady of high rank, possibly the Empress Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, which is offered with an estimate of $2,574 to $5,146. The cameo gem, dating from 1st-2nd century AD, survives as a fragment that has been repaired with gold in a later “Roman” setting. It was probably part of a much larger group portrait that could have decorated the home of a noble ancient Roman. Cameo engraving reached its zenith during the Age of Augustus and this is a fine example from this era.
A Roman intaglio of Diana, goddess of the hunt, carved in fire orange carnelian with her quiver of arrows circa 5th century A.D. is expected to sell for up to $2,574, while another Roman intaglio of Ceres, the goddess of fertility and harvest, with a cornucopia and ear of corn carved from red carnelian, is expected to fetch between $1,030 and $1,373.
Intaglio of Diana, goddess of the hunt. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.
“Since ancient times, cameos and intaglios have been regarded as the discerning person’s status symbol. With the sale of The Ceres Collection of 101 exquisite rings, Bonhams hopes to attract a new generation to appreciate the art of gem engraving,” said Emily Barber, director of Bonhams Jewelry Department.
Cameos and intaglios have been collected and admired since antiquity. Their history dates back to the early civilizations of the near east, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Minoan Crete and Cyprus, when intaglios – where the design is cut into the stone – were used as seals and means of identification as well as to show off the owner’s wealth.
As well as demonstrating social standing, cameo and intaglio carved rings also acted as amulets to bring good luck and to ward off the evil eye.
During the Renaissance there was a revival in the art of engraving and portrait cameos of royalty and personalities of the day were circulated and exchanged. In the 18th-19th century, the collecting of engraved gems reached epidemic proportions and many great collections were formed. Being miniature sculptures, cameos were greatly admired for their craftsmanship, and collecting them was considered an intellectual pursuit.
The earliest cameos were created by carving the backs of Pharaonic stone scarabs. The scarabs were sometimes centuries older than their carvings.
The 4th century B.C.? Are you kidding me? Who wouldn’t want to own a piece of that history?