This lovely Victorian carved shell cameo circa 1870 depicts a semi-draped classical female dancing and playing the kithara, an instrument played primarily by skilled musicians and differing from a simple lyre in having more strings and integral soundboards. The subject is beautifully hand-carved and full of life and movement. I love the detail in her swirling drapery and tiny fingers plucking the strings. It is tempting to assume the figure is Terpsichore, Greek muse of dance and choral song, but eighteenth-century sources did not go so far.
The subject is copied from an intaglio, signed Pichler, (family name of famous gem-engravers active in the 1700s), after an ancient painting discovered at the Roman baths of Constantine. The intaglio appears in the Paoletti collection of gem impressions described simply as 'Citerista' ('kithara player'). An apparently identical gem of the kithara player, also signed Pichler, is recorded in the James Tassie collection (between catalogue entries 15286 and 15291) but is described in Raspe’s catalogue as ‘A Bacchante, dancing and playing upon the lyre'. Being the rowdy female followers of Bacchus, god of wine, Bacchantes were perhaps not best known for their musical prowess, although dancing with wild abandon would have suited them perfectly.
The cameo is set as a pendant in 9 carat rose gold, stamped ‘9ct’ on the back of the mount. Condition is very good for the age, with some short, extremely fine natural internal age lines seen in the cameo when held to light. The mount has slight signs of wear expected for the age and the pendant bail has been added later.
The gold mount measures approximately 40mm x 33mm (1 9/16” x 1 1/4”); with the bail and suspension ring the overall height is about 55mm (just over 2 1/8"). A really pretty and unusual antique cameo pendant and a delight to wear!
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