Cameos from Ancient Greece and Rome: Small but precious treasures

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) When talking about precious or semi-precious gemstones, most people think of the diamonds they cannot afford or rubies, agates and similar well-known minerals. But, only a few people know that gemstones have been subjected to various carving techniques since ancient times, making from them small but marvellous works of art. Basically, the most commonly applied technique of gem carving is the so-called cameo, which, in most cases, features a raised relief and, therefore, differs from the so-called intaglio that has an engraved or negative image. Ancient cameos date back as far as the third century BC and were first produced in Greece, where they mainly served as jewellery for the Hellenistic kings and their retinues. In ancient Rome, cameos and similar works of art were highly popular, especially in the family circle of the Emperor Augustus (27 BC to 14 AD), who developed a great affection for this kind of art. Roman cameos generally continued Hellenistic styles and were marked by only very few innovations. The extremely high quality of gem carving (which will be discussed more in detail below) was maintained until the end of the second century AD, but, with the beginning of the third century AD, it was subject to a sharp decline that can also be seen in other fields of art. During the European Middle Ages, cameos were highly appreciated by the aristocracy, but, nevertheless, the production practices developed in the ancient world found their application only in very rare cases, … Read More

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