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Antique 1860s 14K Lava Cameo Brooch Psyche Christian Allegory - image 1 of 9

Magnificent both in execution and in size, this high-relief c.1860 Italian lava cameo depicting Psyche is mounted in an 14K gold brooch frame.

Arms crossed over her heart, the wavy-tressed and flowing-robed Psyche gazes heavenwards in rapture, winged like a butterfly, with a curved bed of roses beneath her and a crucifix pendant at her breast.

The oval gold frame has fine wire twist work around the outer edge and at the base of the collet gripping the cameo. Open-backed, it has a tube hinge and closes with a secure c-clasp. Unmarked, as is typical of this period, the frame acid tests as 14K gold.

Indicating its Italian origins, the back of the cameo has the word “Psiche” lightly etched into it. In the 1850s and 1860s, lava jewelry was imported from abroad and often then mounted stateside by a fine jeweler. Period ads frequently refer to such pieces as “Etruscan lava cameos”; one from 1857 proudly announces the steamer shipment just in from Italy. An 1860 letter home, from a Navy officer stationed in Italy to his sister in Michigan, reports that “articles of lava jewelry are very abundant, and at half the price we get them at home”.

The unusual symbolism of this piece combines the motifs traditionally associated with the myth of Cupid and Psyche (and much explored in the visual and theatrical arts of late 18th and early 19th century Europe), with elements of its allegorical Christian interpretations through the millenia.

Thus, the butterfly which is Psyche’s attribute and the bed of roses which represent those created by a delighted Jupiter upon her wedding to Cupid, are joined by the crucifix pendant she wears and the rays of divine light she gazes upward to. In this Christian reading, Psyche’s sacred marriage, which overcomes even death, parallels the soul’s redemption through Christ and celebrates its joyful union with God.

Measuring 2 ¼” high and 1 7/8” wide, the brooch has a digital weight of 31 grams . Very good condition, with the cameo’s exquisite, highly detailed sculpting intact except for a 1/16” abrasion to the bottom tip of her wing (see photo #6).

Photo #9 shows an late 18th century rendering of the myth: Francois Girard’s 1798 painting, “Amor and Psyche, also known as Psyche Receiving the First Kiss of Love”.

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Antique 1860s 14K Lava Cameo Brooch Psyche Christian Allegory


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