Cameos, Prized Since Antiquity


The term “cameo” refers to a method of carving, such as engraving a stone for a piece of jewelry. The cameo features a raised image. As an ancient art form, the term refers only to work where the image is in a color contrasting with the background. To achieve this contrast, the stone, flat and with different colored layers, is cut through to a contrasting layer. Except for the image, the rest of that layer is removed so that the carving shows against the background color. The cameo pictured here was carved into sardonyx, which, like onyx, is a layered form of chalcedony.

Cameos have been prized at least since the Bronze Age, a prehistoric period over 5000 years ago. Roman soldiers entering battle carried amulets of sardonyx engraved with Mars, the god of war, to give them courage.

Judah, Miriam’s heartthrob and later her husband, is a jeweler famous for his craft. In THE DEADLIEST SPORT, she visits his shop and admires his work:

Signet rings, each with an intaglioed stone, were artfully arranged in one showcase after another along with bronze and brass cuff bracelets; pendants, charms, and amulets worked in silver or gold; cameos carved in glass or hardstone (onyx or agate); and brooches with complex mosaic designs set in malachite; each the work of a master craftsman in his prime.

It’s true you can buy a bag of plastic cameos to create your own jewelry, lovely but, of course, not so refined as the hand carved masterpieces from Antiquity. Likewise, you can read about Roman Alexandria, but only the Miriam bat Isaac adventures will create the setting with such authentic detail as to bring you there. Just click here.

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