Cameos became popular during the 19th century, the most common are made of shell like this one. The craftsman carves away the design so that it stands out in relief from the background. This achieves a contrast between the design (image) in one colour and the background in another. This cameo depicts Cleopatra, she is white contrasting well with the brown colour of the shell and to complete the effect the brooch has been set in gold with small sapphires at its four corners. Period cameos are cut by hand and their beauty is in the delicacy and quality of the carving. Modern cameos are done by machine and do not show the same finesse and translucence or depth that you find in period examples.
Cleopatra is perhaps one of the most famous queens in history. She has been immortalised by writers, artists, film makers and actors. Born in 69 BC, on the death of her father, at 18 she was married to her 10 year old brother (as was the custom in Egypt at that time) and became joint ruler of Egypt. After her brother’s death she became sole ruler. She was reputed to be a great beauty and lover and intelligent. Two of her most famous lovers were Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. And perhaps she is most famous for her death by committing suicide reputedly clutching an asp to her breast rather than surrender to the conquering Roman army.
“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.” Elizabeth Gaskell writing in 1851 to her daughter Marianne.
I rarely lend my brooches out and certainly not this cameo, as I would not have it lost on any account.