Archive for category Italian Shell cameo art
Diving in the shallow waters off of the African coast, one could at one time find a wealth of colorful tropical fish like the Picasso Trigger fish or Cypraecassis rufa. But that last name will probably not stick out to unless you put it into a more familiar context.
It is also better known as a bull mouth helmet or a Carnelian (sometimes written cornelian) Shell. Besides being sought after for its natural beauty, this shell has become a favorite for the carving of cameo brooches, pendants and earrings. The latin name might not make it sound as elegant as the end results, but Italian artisans have been carving them into beautiful objects since about the early 1800′s.
Curious but true – this hard substance is actually a snail shell! Found off the southern African coast, this sea snail is common in Mozambique, the shores of Kenya and Madagascar. Not only is the strong and durable shell noted for its presence in cameo jewelry art, but for this very reason (high resistance) this group of shells are also well represented in the fossil records. Described as having a conspicuous, solid, thick, heavy shell, up to 17 cm, once can find it has a dorsally reddish color with broad spiral bands bearing rounded nodules. Thick outer lip in light orange and accents of orange with white ridges.
These shells are not only attractive to the jewellery market for their striking colors and durability but also because they naturally lend themselves to the art of cameos. A cameo nearly always features a relief image with a contrasting color negative image. The composition of this shell with the various layers makes it ideal for using the art of intaglio to carve out images of beautiful women, Greek and Roman gods as well as rulers and kings.
Actually it wasn’t until the 18th century that cameos were made of shells – normally the Renaissance cameos came from hardstone, mussel or cowry shells – however they all provided that distinctive dark background to the white or whitish relief image. Then with world exploration – and unfortunately exploitation, cassis tuberosa from the West Indies became the raw material of choice when making cameos.
There is a downside to the over harvesting of shells – and actually any type of exotic fish from these natural beautiful waters. After years of emptying the African coast of this elegant and important creature, places like Kuruwitu are only just beginning to re-establish a balance in their oceans. Beautiful Helmet Shells like this one have been removed from the coastal waters in their hundreds of thousands to sell to tourists. It’s role as an important predator of sea urchins made it a fundamental element to the survival of the eco-system.
Since these creatures feed on sea urchins their removal from their natural habitat in mass quantities resulted that sea urchins proliferate uncontrollably killing off coral reefs and destroying the natrual environment. Which explains why areas like Kurumai have worked hard to protect their shore lines. We encourage you to read about the work being done to save the environment off of Kenya. We also encourage you to buy your cameo from a reputable vendor who will document that the shell has been harvested according to all international regulations.
The technique of hand carving cameos is an artform that goes back hundreds of years. These beauties were once used for a number of purposes from recording history and heroes to displaying ones social and/or cultural status. Today, Naples, Italy specializes in this workmanship, carving countless cameos that are sent all around the world.
Carved from several types of material in an array of colors, most pieces can be worn as a necklace or brooch, making for a well-rounded piece of jewelry. In my opinon, there is something particularly special about cameos. Not only do they carry an everchanging story throughout the world’s history but they have versitilty in wear and style. I myself have one that I usually style as a vintage piece of jewelry but it can just as easily be worn as the traditional, elegant piece it is.
Typically, cameos are carved from a few different types of shell:
Carnelian Shell – This is the most commonly used shell usually light peach or orange in color and also my personal favorite
Sardoynx Shell – Resembling marble, this shell has a thicker outter layer and a dark brown interior
Mother of Pearl – Once carved this material creates a blue, gray translucent color
Agate – Slightly different from the rest, agate is a stone found in various types of rock that’s generally blue or green
Just take a look for youself! You can literally find just about anything carved into these works of art now a days, from The David to your pet cat, Whiskers.
Ancient Greek and Roman mythology appears to give us only a muse for music and her name was Euterpe, one of 7 sisters who were proclaimed to inspire. While describing the newest consignment of Carnelian shell cameos my research pulled up that the enticing figure in this 4 cm oval shaped pendant framed in 18K gold could only be a muse, since the only deity of music was Apollo – a man ! THE MOUSAI (Muses) were the goddesses of music, song and dance, and the source of inspiration to poets. Pierino Neri, the artist who carved this particular cameo, choose to use the contours of the shell and hand carve a lyre by her side instead of the more commonly found double flute.
The Bull mouth or Red Helmet sea shell, also known as the carnelian shell, were discovered to have layers of strongly contrasting colors and the shells were large enough to be perfect for carving cameos making them ideal for carving into cameos. The vivid colors and contours of the shell become are both the objective and the challenge that each artist is confronted with as they decide what image and how to portray it.
Our Eutrepe has fine details in her hair, the laurel wreath encircling her head and the folds of the gown. It is quite impressive how the artists creates an entire story of time, beauty and depth while portraying only one element.
If a picture is worth a thousand words then I can only imagine the story pouring out of a hand carved cameo. An artist will thoroughly study the shell – his or her canvas – to find the curves, bumps, nicks and dents that they need to incorporate in their image. Then, much like Michelangelo insisted, they will free the story or object that is captured inside of the shell.
One of the newest additions to the Pierotucci Sardonyx Collection is this enthralling cameo, carved to use the shell at a unique angle – as a diamond shaped cameo exquisitely framed in 18K gold with a top hook to be worn as a pendant or a back clip, so that it doubles as a brooch. The sardonyx seashell is defined by a thick outer layer and a dark brown interior. In fact a finished sardonyx cameo will have a varying shades of brown in the background and a white foreground, closely resembling marble. Sardonyx or what is most commonly known as Helmet shells have been used since the Roman Empire for everything from food to cooking pots, trumpets, and jewelry.
According to Homer and others, he was a son of Tros by Calirrhoë, and a brother of Ilus and Assaracus; being the most beautiful of all mortals, he was carried off by the gods that he might fill the cup of Zeus, and live among the eternal gods. (Hom. Il. xx. 231, &c.; Pind. Ol. 1. 44, xi. in fin.; Apollod. iii. 12. § 2.) The manner in which he was carried away from the earth is likewise differently described; for while Homer mentions the gods in general, later writers state that Zeus himself carried him off, either in his natural shape, or in the form of an eagle, or that he sent his eagle to fetch Ganymedes into heaven. (source)
It appears that the artist of this delicate and unique cameo was inspired by the story of Zeus sending his eagle to carry off the young boy, and carved this image to depicting the fate of Ganymedes, surrounded by a flowing ribbon that frames the cameo within the 18K gold frame.
So this is another dreamy New Years option from my British colleague and though she is a little more subdued in her choice of bling bling have choosen a more sophisticated and elegant black agate cameo to grace the simple lines of her tunic you can see she is ready to dance the night away. She is quite the international person – a Brit living in Italy and drinking French Champagne for her New Years Brindisi – brindisi is the Italian word for a toast.
$502 - boutique1.com
£580 - farfetch.com
$48 - modcloth.com
$880 - stylebop.com
$32 - barneys.com
$15 - vasanticosmetics.com
£34 - harrods.com
£6 - topshop.com
€315 - pierotucci.com
The Italian cameo is a longstanding member in the world of fine jewelry. The detail, rare materials, and elegance have made it a sought after item by centuries of royalty and nobility alike. Though the world of fashion has changed significantly since those times cameos still emanate a sense of luxury, and are a must for any fine jewelry collector. Cameos come in three different types of raw materials, and each material speaks about how the cameo was made, where it was made, and how valuable it is. Below is a description of the three main different kinds of cameos for the jewelry collector wanting a bit more info, or for the novice interested learning the basics. Cameos naturally are made out of many types of materials, though the three we have listed tend to be the most prevalent in the market.
Sardonyx Shell Cameos are the most rare and valuable of the three. This is for multiple reasons, however the most prevalent reason is that sardonyx shells grow at a very slow rate, and therefore the are not harvested in abundance. A limited number of sardonyx shell cameos are produced every year.
Sardonyx shells are also desirable due to their color pigmentation. Sardonyx has a pure white mid layer and a beautiful deep red to chocolate brown interior. This provides each cameo with striking color contrast, adding to its elegance. Both types of shell cameos are hand carved by artisans who have been specifically trained in one area of detail. This means that one artist has spent their working life trained to carve noses or hair while another is trained to carve flowers. Only a master carver has the experience and know how to carve a cameo in its entirety, therefore the majority of cameos on the market have gone threw an assembly line type process where multiple carvers add their expertise to every piece.
Cornelian Shell Cameos are more common as this type of shell grows much more rapidly, and is harvested on a regular basis. The majority of shell cameos are made using Cornelian shell. This shell coloring is different than Sardonyx. Cornelian shells tend to range from orange to pink hues, detracting from the amount of color contrast between the base colored part of the cameo to the carved out profile. Cornelian shells also have less white coloring between the layers, meaning that the profile or object being carved will not be a pure white like on Sardonyx shells. The object being carved will have a tinge of the orange or pink of the base of the shell. These two reasons are why Cornelian shell cameos are more widely seen and purchased.
Cornelian shell cameos are also created in the same way of Sardonxy shell cameos. The assembly line of artisans carve their expertise into every shell. There is however one major difference in the process that is attributed to Cornelian shell cameos that Sardonxy lack. The amount of layering in the carving of Cornelian shells cameos can include the top outside layer of the shell, mid layer for the profile, and the bottom base layer adding a level of complexity and hue to the overall beauty of the cameo.
Another determining factor in Cornelian cameo creation is the actual decision of while type of design is put on which piece of shell. Sardonyx shells are more uniform in nature, and therefore do not have as many natural rises and falls like a Cornelian shell. The layout of the shell becomes critical to which design in carved into it. For example, a shell with a large bump will tend to have a flower motif carved into the raised area instead of a profile. Profiles need to have a somewhat flat surface in order to be carved properly.
There are also many types of non shell cameos in the modern market. Many cameos can now be produced using semi-precious stones instead of fragile shells. Agate is one such stone that is commonly used in modern cameo production. This specific stone was selected for use due to its high white mineral content, allowing the profile and motifs to still have a white coloring. Agate can also come in a variety of different colors, allowing for a wider selection in color contrast.
The majority of all Agate is quarried in Northern Europe, and therefore differs from the shell versions which are harvested in the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas respectively. Also agate cameos cannot be carved by hand due to the hard nature of the stone. Agate stone cameos are cut using modern laser technology. This has both positive and negative repercussions for cameo enthusiasts. Negatively the agate cameo is not technically an artisan item, as it is made by machines, however this does allow a cameo to be exactly reproduced. The ability to perfectly reproduce popular designs gives consumers an increased availability of exactly what they want.
Another defining difference between stone cameos and shell cameos is the actual shape of the cameo. Shell cameos are convex in shape, allowing the design to protrude from the metal setting. Stone cameos being more uniform in nature are not convex but flat on the underside. They also lay flat within their settings.
Cameo carving today is done on sea shells, either on the Sardonyx shell or Cornelian shell. Both are equally beautiful. The sardonyx shell is more brown, whereas the cornelian shell is of a more lighter, reddish color. Cameo has always meant every shell worked in relief, so the shell is carved from the front with the picture or profile in relief. Every shell cameo is unique and the skill needed to create these exquisite pieces is immense. There are workshops in Italy where each person will specialise in various aspects of the portrait. For example, one person might specialise in hair or hands, another in the nose. Obviously, this does not apply to the “master” carver: his hands manage to transform a piece of shell into an incredible sculpture and is a true collectable. Unfortunatly, because of the very nature of this painstaking work, this art is becoming a thing of the past, so owning a precious cameo becomes even more meaningful.