Terrific large antique Victorian shell cameo brooch depicting Orpheus and Eurydice. I believe it is based on a late eighteenth-century engraving by Thomas Burke after a painting by Angelika Kaufmann. Orpheus was a master musician, playing upon the lyre and singing so sweetly he could charm mortals and gods alike. But tragedy struck when his young bride, Eurydice, was fatally bitten on the leg by a snake and her soul carried down to the underworld ruled by Hades. Orpheus was heartbroken and set out to retrieve her, using the beauty of his music to win over Hades and secure his wife's return. Hades was suitably moved, but told Orpheus that he would only allow Eurydice to return to life on earth on the condition that Orpheus did not look at her face while she was still in the underworld.
Reunited with the soul of his dead wife, Orpheus took her by the hand, leading her through the shadowy gloom towards the light shining from the exit. Having very nearly reached the threshold Orpheus could restrain himself no longer. He turned his head, desperate to see the face he loved so much. At this very moment Eurydice died once more, vanishing into the darkness. Orpheus had lost her forever.
This large cameo is very well carved in a vigorous style with strong, clear detail and flowing lines, the composition showing excellent balance. Clutching his lyre, Orpheus is about to lead the graceful figure of Eurydice out of the underworld but will at any moment turn to look at her, tragically destroying their hopes and dreams. One can almost sense Eurydice's fear in the way she holds her veil, as if ready to draw it across her face in a futile attempt to avert the inevitable.
The mount is possibly gilded brass with some signs of wear to the finish but still retaining an attractive warmth. The airiness of the openwork frame recalls slender woven branches and complements the more solid appeal of the cameo beautifully. There are some small spots of solder reinforcement at the points where the frame connects to the bezel but these are not noticeable from the front. The cameo is in very good condition with just a few extremely faint internal lines which are quite typical for the age and seen only when held to light, not under normal conditions. The brooch closes securely on the reverse with a strong pin and 'c' clasp.
A delightful and very substantial antique cameo brooch featuring one of the less common mythological subjects, it measures a large 66mm x 60mm (2 5/8" x 2 1/4") approx., including the mount. The cameo alone measures 2" tall.
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