Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Origins of the Cameo

Cameos are precious or semi-precious gemstones on which a relief has been carved.  The cameo has no other function than being purely decorative, therefore, these beautiful pieces did not arrive on the jewelry scene until the Hellenistic period (about the third century BC).  The emergence of the cameo in Greek society followed the vast conquest of Alexander the Great which suggests to scholars the cameo, in part, was influenced by treasure sent back from various parts of the conquered Persian Empire.  At this time the Greeks started to follow the Oriental fashion of mounting precious stones in their jewelry.  Onyx and Sardonyx were already widely used and these stones were well suited for cameo treatment since both stones have stratified layers of dark and light.  The opportunity to create ornamentation in miniture would have well suited the Greek’s tastes in fashion, thereby, accounting for the blossoming of the cameo as an art form in the Hellenistic Age.

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