Roman Cameo

Cammeo su conchiglia raffigurante testa femmin...

Cammeo su conchiglia raffigurante testa femminile allegoria dell’autunno (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emperor Hadrian. Antique cameo, gold mount of ...

Emperor Hadrian. Antique cameo, gold mount of the late 17th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So-called Great Cameo of France. Five-layered ...

So-called Great Cameo of France. Five-layered sardonyx cameo, Roman artwork, second quarter of the 1st century AD. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Romans were very fond of jewelry, and though they got quite a lot of it from plundering other cities, they made some jewelry themselves, one of the most notable types is called a Cameo. A cameo is when a layered stone (normally agate, sardonyx, or shell) is carved so the figures in the carving will have the color of the top layer whereas the background will be black or some other dark color.

As before mentioned, cameos were very popular with the Romans, who imported large amounts of agate and shell to Rome to be carved. Most often these were of important people and senators in Rome, or gods and goddesses. Now let’s go into detail on how these cameos were made.

Rome, Italy 16 B.C: A piece of rough layered agate has just been delivered to the workshop of Quintus Pompilius, the royal jeweler for the Emperor Julius Ceasar. Quintus takes it in his hands and examines it. Two layers, red then white. Perfect. Quintus begins the cameo by scratching a line to mark out the outline of the lady (for Ceaser’s wife). Once this is done, he carves out all the white layer on the outside of the marked outline, so now the outline is marked in red, which will be the background in the finished piece. Now the carver begins the details, paying careful attention to the leaves which sometimes reaches out away from the hair into the “red zone”. The hair does not need to be so carefully watched, as the curves and creases flow freely across the maiden’s head.  After much more carving, Pompilius polishes it and sends it off to the goldsmith with instructions to deliver it to the emperor as soon as it is finished. The next day it is seen around the emperor’s throat as he walks into the senate house, admired by his subjects (sort of) and hated by the senate.

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