NATURE IMITATING NATURE239 197 Below Bracelet of a trelliswork of shells threaded on strings of tiny glass beads. European, mid- 19th century. L. 18.5 cm. Glasgow, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum One of a pair of bracelets, part of a large group of similar shell jewellery given to Glasgow by various donors, one of whom stated that the pieces were brought back from Russia in the mid- 19th century by her grandfather. The shells are the same as those in the painted jewellery in Fig. 196. 196 Young Beauty, by Emma Sandys ( 1843- 77). Oil on panel, English, signed and dated 1864. Whereabouts unknown The young woman wears a hair ornament and necklace of small shells threaded on red cord.
9VICTORIAN CAMEOS Be sure you take care of MY cameo brooch. I find you have got it; now I only lent it to you and I value it extremely, and would not have it lost on any account. ( Novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, writing in 1851 to her daughter Marianne) 1 Victorian cameos are in a class of their own. Unlike cameos of earlier periods, placed in cab-inets to be admired by a select few, they were made to be worn, as portable sculpture, visible to all. The image itself was what mattered; the setting was subsidiary, acting like a picture frame, with a brooch- fitting at the back or a pendant loop at the top. In this they are not so very different from the painted miniatures set as jewellery ( as, for example, Queen Victoria's miniature of her husband, set in a bracelet, which she wore all her life) that had acted as portable picture galleries since the sixteenth century. Because the image was paramount, Victorian cameos, like miniatures, are often very large, a feature that sets them apart from cameos of earlier generations. Cameos have long been treated as part of the taste for engraved gems, a term dating from the early eighteenth century when the history of such gems from antiquity onwards began to be studied seriously. Gem- engraving encompasses both cameos - worked in relief in the contrasting layers of hardstone or shell - and intaglios, in which the image is cut into the surface, usually in a translucent stone. Intaglios, much appreciated by eighteenth- century Grand Tour connoisseurs, were less appropriate for setting as jewellery and the Victorians overwhelmingly preferred cameos. Intaglios continued to be worn in the Victorian age as small fob- seals hung from a watch- chain or chatelaine, or mounted in larger desk seals, but with the introduction of the postage stamp in 1840 the practice of placing wax seals on per-sonal letters declined. 2Translucent stones, both cameos and intaglios, were used in historicist jewels by Castellani ( see Fig. 391), Froment- Meurice and other French jewellers. The materials used for hardstone cameos were usually varieties of agate ( onyx, sardonyx, jasper- agate), a stone that occurs with layers of different colour, enabling a skilled cameo-cutter to work down through the layers to achieve an image in more than one colour. Being solid stone, it is heavy. Shell had the advantage for jewellery of being light in weight. Most widely used was the large tropical helmet shell, and the two varieties with the best colour contrast combined with the necessary depth were the Cassus rufus, which has a white and a pink- toned layer, and the Cassus madagascariensis, which is white with a brown- toned layer of varying intensity. The depth of the white layer at the promontories allowed for very high relief. It was possible to carve over the whole surface of the shell and such virtuoso demon-strations were much- prized souvenirs. 3The method and equipment for hardstone and for shell differed: hardstone cameos were cut on a lathe with steel drills or wheels, a lengthy process, and a complex image could take months to complete. Shell cameos were cut by hand using a burin or engraving tool, which was much quicker; a shell cameo could be cut in a matter of days. This made them considerably cheaper and explains why so many of the cameos Previous pages: left, cameo, Minerva Aspasios ( see Fig. 469); right, Mrs John Thomas ( see Fig. 467)