Cameo: the story
A word with an uncertain and mysterious etymology, which defines one of the most fascinating ornaments ever. Its story is extraordinary and rooted in the dawn of civilization.
Made through the engraving of a layered stone or a shell, the cameo was already known in the times of the Ancient Greeks. Representing mainly a sign of social distinction, it flourished during the Hellenistic reigns: the sovereigns used these jewels to convey their image and power.
Worn by the patricians as luxury items, they later became, in the Imperial era, a means of glorification of the emperors.
Emblematic is the Gemma Augustea, conserved at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, an ancient Roman low-relief cameo engraved gem cut from an Arabian onyx stone (9 AD-12 AD), depicting the glorification of Augustus.
The tradition survived the collapse of the Roman Empire and experienced a new splendour in the 15th century, when cameos became collectors’ items coveted by noble families and Popes in theRenaissance. Sought after for their artistic value and for their harmonious beauty, these jewels inspired the artists of that time, who specialized in their production.
Once a simple imitation of the antique, the art of the cameo has profoundly transformed over the centuries to give life to ornaments with innovative shapes and content. By merging tradition and creativity, the cameo thus becomes a contemporary jewel.
The artistic production of New York-based artist Amedeo Scognamiglio, “King of Cameos”, goes in this direction.
Amedeo proudly continues the ancient tradition with his pop and sometimes irreverent cameos made in his native Torre del Greco (Naples). Scognamiglio is a sixth-generation cameo maker and his one-of-a-kind cameos have been worn by celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Alicia Keys, Brooke Shields, Rihanna and many others.
Amedeo hints at contemporary themes with his “The Queen” necklace which portrays Queen Elizabeth II, who has become an icon of style and fashion.
In the “Mystic Queen, the power within” series, he recovers the tradition of sardonic shell engraving, enriching the ancient model with references to reality: the serpentine-hair Gorgoneion (Medusa), is in company of snakes and of a skull adorned with a crown, a somewhat modern memento mori.
Medusa’s snakes “come out” from the engraving and materialize in sculptures made up of diamonds and sapphires, which twist around the cameo.
The originality and symbolism of Amedeo’s cameos range from the famous cameo with monkeys to cameos with eyes.
The theme of the Medusa also appears in the production of Anna Porcu, who recovered an ancient cameo dating back to around the mid-19th century, setting it by hand in a yellow gold ring surrounded by mother-of-pearl and rubies.
The ring depicting a dancing bacchante is also an original reinterpretation of the classic themes. The cameo, in yellow gold, is framed by a chess game of black onyx and mother-of-pearl.
The Boy with Thorn (Spinarius) is a Greco-Roman bronze sculpture of a boy withdrawing a thorn from his foot: this work of art was one of the most appreciated and copied during the Renaissance and all the eras to follow.
Anna nestles a XX century cameo in mother of pearl, onyx and silver mounting it as a manchette made of leather that gives vigour echoing the statue’s hardness.
Francesca Villa Jewelry
Francesca is an independent designer: her collection of cameos tells a unique story with a “modern twist” –
Be crazy is a one-of-a-kind ring crafted from yellow gold, rubies, enamel and antique cameo.In her Be Yourself collection, Francesca Villa brings to life her personal collection of antique and vintage cameos.
Francesca says: “My capsule collection of one-of-a-kind cameos rings is designed combining enamels and precious stones. This gives each ring an unexpected modern twist. I’ve been collecting cameos for many years. I especially love the tiny ones, I love the little figures, with their wonderful imperfections, carved on gems. I adore seeing and feeling the passage of time on their little intense faces. Each cameo tells a story and is part of a wonderful magic journey, and this is the reason why I found them so inspiring.”
Founded by Mr. Michele Di Luca, Cameo Italiano preserves the techniques that have been handed down in Torre del Greco, the only place in the world where shell cameos are engraved. An emblematic“Made in Italy” firm that has been able to reinvent the cameo design by dissolving the boundaries between classic jewel and current fashion. Each cameo is unique and unrepeatable, blending the charm of the past with a contemporary vision of the world.
They also captivate a young audience and are successful not only in the world of fashion but also in trendy design.
They established fruitful collaborations with international artists such as Cindy Sherman, famous for her conceptual self-portraits, depicting herself in many different contexts and versions. These images capture iconic representations of women while offering us a critical approach. They may also question gender norms through the lens of feminist art.
The particular concept of gaze questions the female stereotypes represented by the media. The pensive cameos represent “a precious selfie”, in which the artist distorts the contents represented, intervening as on the photos she publishes on social networks. The artist Catherine Opie is inspired by the Renaissance in an original way as she chose to transfer herself while breastfeeding her baby.
The way in which she holds her son brings to mind classic paintings of feeding mothers, though this contrasts with the artist’s faded scar etched across her chest.
This company was founded at the end of the 19th century, when Mr. Giovanni Aucella established the coral-making business. From that moment an authentic journey made of dreams and passion began. In 1930 the company was consolidated: in addition to coral and semi- precious stones, Aucella dedicated itself to cameos in a traditional and at the same time creative way, as shown for example by the agate cameos in various colors.The modernity of Aucella has recently been expressed in the mouth-shaped jewel in hand-engraved natural Mediterranean red coral, as well as in the series of cameos depicting bunnies, in tune with the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese lunar calendar.
The cameos depicting eyes enclose a world of omens. In Hebrew and Arabic ‘Ayin’ means eye, which represents Fate but also source and renewal. Aucella also specializes in customized orders, realizing unique pieces.
I wish to conclude this excursus with a quotation: “Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” (Winston Churchill).