This large Victorian shell cameo brooch dates from around 1860 and shows an unusual classical scene. A senior goddess - heavily draped and wearing a diadem with a veil - is seated on a throne opposite a younger, wreathed female who is kneeling and tending an altar. The goddess points towards the heavens and appears to be delivering a stern message to her attendant. The symbolic presence of the altar makes me wonder if the female deity is Vesta, (whose nearest Greek equivalent was Hestia), Roman goddess of the hearth, the home and the city. If so, it is possible that the younger female represents a Vestal or Vestal Virgin, one of her priestesses, whose duty it was to tend the sacred flame of Rome. Alternatively this might be Hera (Juno) with one of her handmaidens.
Finely carved, the cameo has a beautifully balanced composition with expert handling of relief. The hazy column of smoke in the background really brings the solidly dimensional figures to the fore and their drapery shows the most careful detail. I also like lion figure adorning the leg of the throne. Framing the cameo is a substantial gilt metal mount with fleur-de-lis decoration at the cardinal points. It has a working pin and ‘C’ clasp on the reverse. The cameo measures 51mm x 40mm (2” x 1 5/8”) approx., and the mount 67mm x 55mm (2 5/8” x 2 1/8”) approx. Etched on the back of the shell are some semi-circular marks and a number ‘6’, probably original to manufacture.
Condition of the cameo is good with light wear and a couple of fine internal lines in the shell faintly seen when held to light. There is a thin trace of glue around the edge of the shell on the back, but it is not obtrusive and the cameo is secure. The mount has minor wear to the gilding expected with age and some small spots of solder reinforcement to the back of the frame not seen from the front. The brooch fastens with a secure pin and 'c' clasp.
This a great cameo with an unusual and interesting classical scene for a collector.
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