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Cameo: Precious Bas-relief

Thursday, 22 October 2009

cameoThe word «cameo» is frequently used in cases when it is required to depict something graceful, and actually in these cases «cameo» from the noun turns into the descriptive attribute. If a thing or phenomenon is described that they resemble cameo, it is the same to state that the mentioned things are gracefully beautiful, and unusually elegant. Stones with carved pictures made asrelief are called cameo. Thus, they differ from entails performed with deep engraved pictures, and were used as seals during ancient times.

«Cameo» is believed to appear in XIII century from the French word camaheu, camaieul, that corresponds to the Greek word κειμήλιον meaning jewelry, and was delivered from the Byzantine East by the crusaders.

In IV century B.C. the qualified stone cutters would carve scarabs, lions and sphinxes like ancient charms assigned to keep off misfortune and diseases. Though real cameos are embossed multicolored gems that are often made on sardonyx stones (kind of multilayered agate), they appeared only in the end of IV - beginning of III centuries B.C.

Sardonyx is always the perfect stone to make cameo when the relief is accentuated with the various tint of layers, and the master use of such tints made it possible to acquire real picturesque color effects. The illusion of light-to-dark modeling was achieved with variations of the thickness of the white agate in the way to see the darker lower layer.

Alexandria is believed to be the motherland of cameo and this was the city where ancient legendary cameos were made, like cameos with portrays of Ptolemaic II and Arsinoya, «Farneze cup», «Ptolemiac bowl» and others. These cameos were made by the Greek craftsmen who were in the Alexandrian court of Ptolemaic.

When various minerals of all colors were delivered from the East, new cameos appeared as well, that quickly became the items of luxury. They were used to trim rings and tiaras, the clothes of kings and priests were decorated with these stones, the luxury table ware was decorated, as well as culture items, furniture and musical tools. And the most appreciated were the vessels from crystal, chalcedony and onyx with relief pictures.

Cameo making is not only handicraft, but in addition it is obstinacy, fantastic patience and inspiration to the beauty and belief in wonder. One of the best experts of glyptics (art of anaglyphy), the French researcher of the early XX century E. Bablon noted that for the big cameo, like the Ptolemaic picture, it took the same period of time as for the construction of the entire cathedral.

Cameos were like decoration, yet the splendid art of stone cutters allowed reproducing the pictures of ancient painters engraved in stones. Reproduction of pictures engraved on stones is still kept till update, and today they are the only source to get to know to the lost ancient art.

Catherine II was rather keen on ancient gems, and in the letter to Grimm, the French enlightener, she wrote: «My small collection of carved stones is such that yesterday four people were hardly carrying two baskets with drawers where only half of collection was there; and to avoid troubles, you'd better know that they were baskets to carry firewood in winter». The Empress called her passion to collecting gems «cameo disease». This «disease» brought to the fact that in the end of reign of Catherine II over 10000 various cameos were kept in the Hermitage Museum. A year before she died, she was so proud to say that, «All collections of Europe, as compared with ours, are like fancy of kids». In what follows the collection grew due to the obtaining of various collections by the Hermitage Museum, as well as due to donation from individuals and members of the emperor family.

Recently cameos are in vogue again, they are not only to remain antique fascination but quite modern decoration. As soon as romantic trends are in vogue again, and designers launched collections full of femininity, decorated with laces, bows and flowers, and cameos immediately revived again. Now almost all designers of the world reputation create collections of cameo as compliment to clothes. For example, the jeweler of the Dior Joaillerie House, Victoire de Castellane, talks about the collection in white-and-black gamut, created by him: «I created the collection of cameo on the base of antique items. I would take ancient brooches and made rings from them, decorating cameos with diamonds, pink sapphires, garnets and gold. As a result, we have an astonishing contrast between the matt stone and brilliant trimming».

Moreover, belts and shawls are decorated with cameos, as well as velvet ribbon on the neck in the ancient style. Cameo looks perfect in brooches, yet Sharon Stone prefers rings and earrings with cameo for many occasions.

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