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Cameos and Cameo

Symbolism of Love: Eros, Cupid and hidden Victorian Messages in Cameos

Create: 09/02/2009
Last reviewed: 25/09/2012

"Since the late 1700s, Italian carvers have been in enamored by the figure of Cupid. Therefore we see all kinds of scenes depicted on classic cameos from Cupid and Venus together, to Cupid playing with goats-and often Cupid shooting an arrow. I believe that the ultimate love-god Eros is the most beautiful of all mythological gods and the most powerful. Through Eros' love, he inspires all living things to gain love-defeating mans wisdom and carefully laid plans."

From Diana Jarrett in her personal communication with collector/dealer Jan Campbell.

Several Victorian and more modern cupid cameos have hidden symbolism. Interpreting its secret message adds another element of enjoyment to cameo collecting. The Victorians were fond of sending covert sentimental messages hidden in flowers, gemstones, and cameo carvings. For example, a cupid riding a lion might mean "Love conquers all". The cupid in a cage would be construed to mean "Prisoner of Love" in our modern vernacular. And the cognoscenti understood that cupid portrayed in cameos might be as moody as the real lovers who gave and received cupid cameos.

Cupid, part of the Goddess of Love Venus' inner circle serves dual purposes of expressing tender affection for the living and paying tribute to the dead. Cupid may not always appear 'baby-like'-but may instead be portrayed like a winged youth.

On a piece of mourning jewelry, Cupid may be seen leaning against an urn or column. When someone is mourning in real life, people will often ask: "How are you holding up" So the image is quite literal with the leaning Cupid. When Cupid conveys sorrow, he is shown in a somber pose with a pensive facial expression. The cameo background is generally black onyx, or something dark, and the

piece may be mounted as a brooch, pendant, or locket.
From the book "Cameos: Old and New", 4th Edition, Originally written by Ann Miller, extensively updated by Diana Jarrett.


Jan Campbell provided 2 images of Cameos depicting cupid:

Image I:

The Ultimate Valentine shows a variety of love bound characters on one museum quality cameo c.1930. Depicted here; Eros the love god tenderly holding his beloved who swooned into his arms. Even though we don't see the identifying butterfly wings often associated with Psyche (the soul) this female is believed to be Psyche resting against Eros. Above the couple are cherubs watching carefully over the lovers. This is approximately 2 ¼ X 3 inches, carved by renowned Italian carver Pernice. Private Collection of the owner, Jan Campbell; www.cameoheaven.com

Image II:

Affectionately nicknamed Cupid on the Half Shell, this depiction reminds one of the classic pose of Venus (cupids' mother) immortalized by Italian artist Botticelli seen poised on a giant shell emerging from the sea. This c.1860 very finely carved cameo of cupid with his bow also reveals a temple in the background, and is sent in a Pinchbeck mounting. Courtesy of Jan Campbell; www.cameoheaven.com


More on:


Contemporary cameos by different designers and artists

A short introduction to Art Nouveau Jewelry

A short introduction to Art Deco Jewelry

Antique Jewelry: collector guides and virtual exhibits

Torre Del Greco

Create: 08/07/2008
Last reviewed: 14/09/2012

The harvesting of coral in the coastal city of Torre del Greco dates back to at least the beginning of the 15th century. It was not until the 17th century though, that coral harvesting become the main town activity. The harvest was entirely sold to the Jewish community living in Leighorn and Genoa. But turning “red gold” into jewelry didn't begin until 1805, when the King of Naples, Ferdinando IV, granted Paolo Bartolomeo Martin of Marseille, France, a 10-year monopoly on the manufacture of coral in Torre del Greco. At that moment an industry was born and "Torre del Greco" took off.


The inhabitants of Torre del Greco developed a technique using hand tools to engrave conch shells and hardened lava (lavic) to create cameos. The engravings, which have changed little over the years, are mainly relief sculptures, usually oval or round, that include portraits of women's faces, mythological representations, flowers, animals, landscapes, and scenes of daily life in Torre del Greco. In 1878 a school was founded to ensure sufficient trained people were available to handle the increased demand. It is interesting to note that another hub in Europe dealing with cameos, and in particular gemstones and Agate objects blossomed in the same period in Germany: Idar-Oberstein.

History of Torre del Greco

The reference to a tower, may refer to a medieval lookout tower which once stood on the coast, but is no longer extant. The people are sometimes called Corallini because of the plentiful coral in the nearby sea, and because the city has been a major producer of Coral jewelry and Cameo brooches since the 19th Century. "Torre Del Greco" was a popular summer resort town for wealthy Italians beginning in the 19th Century and continuing into the early 20th Century. Many wealthy families and even Italian Nobility, built elaborate summer palaces on the outskirts of the town, among the most notable of these is the Palazzo Materazzo.


Torre Del Greco was known for it's Cafe's and Eateries during it's heyday, particularly the "Gran Cafe Palumbo" a large Art Neuveaux style Cafe which supplied hungry tourists and locals with all manner of gelato, pastries, food, and Coffee and had an extensive outdoor pavilion. The famous Italian comedian Toto, was among those who made Torre Del Greco their annual summer retreat. The reason for Torre Del Greco's popularity as a resort town, was it's beaches and the bucolic setting of lush farmland and Vinyards, as well as the vicinity of Mt. Vesuvius.


Cameo and Coral Jewelry Industry in Torre del Greco

Today the city of rolling hills in the province of Naples and in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius is the hub of the coral and cameo jewelry world, with approximately 350 companies and 2,600 workers directly involved in turning coral into objects of beauty. About 75 percent of the city's production is exported. Its largest markets are Japan, the United States, and Europe. Annual income from the trade is roughly $222 million.
Nearly all the companies that toil in this art form are family owned and very small. More than 60 percent operate with no more than three people. Most work independently, but in 1978 some of them organized into the Associazione Produttori Coralli Cammei e Materie Affini (National Association Coral Producers, Analogous Cameos and Materials, aka Assocoral). In September and October of 2006, this organization held a bicentennial celebration of the local coral and cameo industry with a museum exhibition, an international design competition, and a fashion show.