An exceptionally fine and early lava cameo bracelet from the late 18th to very early 19th century, the Grand Tour period of European travel. Five large octagonal plaques, each set in a 14k gold frame, are sculpted with a bust of a Roman god or goddess facing forward with each head turned either slightly left or right. The colors of the stone, detail and quality of the carving are superb and unique. Almost certainly Italian in origin for both plaques and setting, characteristically it is not hallmarked. The shapes of the plaques are characteristic of the neoclassical era of the late 1700s to early 1800s.
The Grand Tour was imperative for every young man who wanted to be considered worldly and educated. It spawned a renewed interest in classical art and architecture, and famous works were reproduced as a result. Faux Grecian urns, bronze casts of the Roman forum or the famous faun of Pompeii, micro mosaics of the doves of Pliny, and cameos depicting mythological, literary or political figures carved from the lava of Mount Vesuvius were especially popular. This bracelet dates to the height of the neoclassical period.
The symbolism imparted in each carving is unique and seldom seen. Occasionally the name of each god was inscribed on the back of each plaque, but not in this case. As much as possible, the plaques have been identified as the following:
Apollo (or one of his followers) wearing a cap of ass’s ears (*); Proserpine (Persephone) with a citadel crown, possibly representing the palace of the underworld, and mantle of horn of plenty with flowers; Juno with her crown; an unidentified god with a crown of feathers; Neptune with his trident.
Many bracelets of this general type exist and are usually mounted in metal, but I have never seen one of this size, quality and condition mounted in gold.
Condition: remarkably good condition given its age. Persephone’s nose is partially chipped but the general shape remains intact. The back of Apollo’s plaque has a tiny chip in the upper right corner at the setting, not visible from the front. Natural lines and gradations are visible in the stone.
Dimensions: just under 7 inches long when clasped, and can be lengthened. Each plaque measures 35mm x 27mm
Hallmarks: French import mark for 14k gold.
*The ass (or donkey, if you will) was an interesting symbol in the mythology and ancient religions of numerous cultures. Known for being hardy and surefooted, their reputation for stubbornness and foolishness was conferred only during Christianity, in spite of the honor of carrying the holy family out of Egypt and being present at the birth of Christ. The ass was sacred to the god Apollo and was sacrificed to him at his temple at Delphi. The myth of Apollo describes how he changed King Midas’ ears into ass’s ears because Midas disliked the music coming from Apollo’s temple.