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Collection

Leda and the Swan by Antonio Berini (1770-1861)

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A17526 Wartski 71

carved in sardonyx, the intertwined figures of Leda and the god Jupiter, in the form of a swan, carved in a white layer of the stone above a mottled grey/ brown background.
Signed: BERINI
Milan, circa 1800
Presented in an original tooled red leather box, the lid bearing the name ‘Berini’ in gilded lettering.

The cameo depicts the union of Jupiter and Leda, the wife of Tyndareus, King of Sparta. Jupiter fools Leda into making love with him by appearing in the guise of a swan, flying into her arms for protection from a pursing eagle. As a result of their union, Leda gives birth to Castor, Pollux, Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, all of whom hatch from an egg. The subject of Leda and the Swan was particularly popular during the Renaissance, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, Correggio, Tintoretto, Michelangelo and Raphael.Berini’s cameo is perhaps closest to Michelangelo’s treatment of the tale, which would have been known to Berini as an engraving. The kiss between Leda and Jupiter is a focal point of both Michelangelo and Berini’s compositions. It is possible that Michelangelo’s depiction may itself have been based on an engraved gem in the collection of Lorenzo de’ Medici, a black and white sardonyx now in the collection of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. This gem also depicts Leda with her leg bent, shielding the more explicit elements of the scene. Berini completed an intaglio in carnelian of St George slaying the dragon in the early 19th Century, which was mounted into a gold Lesser George. It is part of the collection of Her Majesty The Queen (No.: RCIN 442201).