A Gold Mounted Hardstone Cameo

1st Century CE


carved from a piece of layered sardonyx, the instrument comprising of a tortoiseshell
sound box with a pair of horn armatures, picked out in a rich brown strata of the stone, the background in pure white.

Mounted in a gold brooch dating to the late 18th Century.

Length: 4 cm
Cameo: 1.3 cm x 1 cm


The lyre is an attribute of the God Apollo and associated with the Muse Terpischore. It was the symbol of poets and musicians and was a rebus of harmony.

On the reverse there is evidence of a hole which ran through the centre of stone. This was the means by which the gem was originally conceived to have been mounted in ancient Rome, threaded with a section of gold wire which could then be suspended or secured.

The lyre is also associated with the hero Orpheus, a popular subject in 17th and 18th Century romantic painting, who descended into the Underworld to save his wife Eurydice.

Two later comparable cameos reside in the collection of Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle (10659 K121 and 10660 K122).