A diamond mounted sardonyx cameo brooch

Russian, c.1800


centred with a cameo in delicate pink tones depicting a dancing maenad, likely derived from the paintings of Herculaneum, mounted within a raised border of old mine cut diamonds, atop a series of pierced scrolls mounted with rosecut diamonds, the octagonal outer border comprising of a single row of diamonds.

Mounted in silver and yellow gold, the intricate gallery is decorated with a chased foliate design with a detachable brooch fitting, allowing the jewel to be worn as a centre for a bracelet or a choker.

From a noble Russian family.

Length: 4.9cm
Width: 3.2cm

It is likely that the cameo was carved in the Ekaterinburg Imperial stonecutting factory. Pavel Slovtsov, a Russian traveller who visited the workshops in 1809, wrote “here I have come into a workshop where I discover miniatures carved in stone…they carve here with great precision and clarity not only the heads of the ancients but also figures and groups from mythology and history.”

Empress Catherine The Great was a passionate collector of engraved gems and enthusiastic patron of the art form. In 1781, a special expedition was arranged at her request to source stones suitable for gem engraving in the Ural mountains, as she sought to establish a tradition of glyptic carving in Russia comparable to that in Italy. It was her patronage that would establish studios specialising in gem engraving in the Classical style in Saint Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Kolyvan. These studios resided within the existing lapidaries factories, who assigned their most talented carvers to the task of gem engraving.  The Classical subjects were copied from plaster impressions of famous gems in European collections, as well as engravings published in books, such as “The Antiquities of Herculaneum (Antichità di Ercolano).”