Historical Cameos

The idea for this post about historical cameos came from seeing photos of the Cameo Tiara worn by Victoria, the Crown Princess of Sweden on the occasion of her June 19, 2010 wedding to Daniel Westling (now known as Prince Daniel the Duke of Västergötland) at the Stockholm Cathedral.  The Cameo Tiara has a very interesting past as it was thought that Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France had originally commissioned it for his wife Josephine.

But first let’s discuss several other examples of historical cameos dating back to Ancient Egypt, Georgian and Victorian England.  The first example is one of the oldest and it is the Farnese Cup (or Tazza Farnese) an ancient Hellenistic bowl or cup made from a four-layered sardonyx agate and features relief carvings on both the interior and exterior surfaces.  The item purchased by Lorenzo de Medici during the Italian Renaissance features a blend of Ancient Egyptian and Roman images which possibly dates the piece to the 2nd century BC; it is now on display at the Naples National Archaeological Museum in Italy. 

Farnese Cup or Tazza Farnese in the Naples National Archaeological Museum
(view from the top looking into the piece to show the relief carvings)
photo from the Naples National Archaeological Museum

The next historical item is perhaps one of the best known cameo glass pieces and it is the Portland Vase which dates between AD I and AD 25, it is now on display in the British Museum in London, England.  The Roman cameo violet-blue glass vase with white colored relief carvings measures almost 10 inches in height and 22 inches in circumference at the widest part.  It features images of two different scenes depicting seven human figures with a large snake and two horned head figures found just below the handles on either side serving as a way to divide the two scenes of the vase.     

Portland Vase
photo from the British Museum

Throughout the years cameos were not only used for decorative pieces but often worn as jewelry by both men and women.  Cameos were popular during the early Renaissance in Europe and again in the 18th century in England during the reign of King George III and later by his granddaughter Queen Victoria during the 19th century. 

The next two examples of cameos feature images of members of the British Royalty; these items are now currently held in the Royal Trust Collection.  The first is an oval sardonyx (onyx with white layers and sard) cameo brooch which features a silver wreath of rose cut diamond laurel and palm leaves surmounted by a crown and the cameo features the profiles of four Kings of England; George I, II, III, IV.  The first King depicted on the brooch is George IV seen in profile with his three predecessors behind him; all are wearing a laurel wreath upon their heads and a cuirass (armor consisting of a breastplate).  Originally the piece was thought to have been used on the top of a snuff box which had been commissioned by King George IV, it was later sold and made into a brooch and presented to Princess May (later known as Queen Mary) in 1893 as a wedding gift from the Earl and Countess Cadogan.   

cameo brooch with the profiles of the four Kings of England – George I, II, III, IV
photo from the Royal Trust Collection

The next example of a cameo featuring the images of British Royalty was for the badge of the Royal Order of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  The British Royal Family Orders are customarily given by the British sovereign to the female members of the Royal Family and are considered a personal item rather than the state commemorative medals worn by the male members of the Royal Family.  Unlike the other previous Royal Family Orders issued by previous British Kings, the Order of Victoria & Albert was divided into four classes, the first being given to Queen Victoria’s daughters and later her daughters-in-law and grand-daughters with subsequent classes issued to other members of the Royal Family and the Royal Household including honored servants and couriers.  Special Note: For more information regarding the history of the British Royal Family Orders, please click on the link)

Shown below is the first class design given to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Princess Victoria on the occasion of her confirmation.  The Order is decorated with a miniature ivory colored cameo portrait of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert set in brown onyx with a silver gilt frame accented with diamonds, rubies and emeralds with a diamond embellished crown at the top of the frame, the pendant was attached to a white silk bow.  The badges were commissioned by the Queen from the Royal Jeweler, Garrards in London, and the cameos by the Italian gemstone carver Tommaso Saulini.      

The Order of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
photo from the Royal Trust collection

Queen Victoria’s personal badge was unique in the fact that the heads of the cameo were reversed with Prince Albert in the front and the Queen shown behind in deference to her beloved husband.  Later the Queen bequeathed the badge to her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice and subsequently the Princess would give it to Queen Mary.

Queen Victoria wearing her personal badge with the profiles set in reverse order
with Prince Albert in the front and the Queen behind

Finally let’s discuss the Cameo Tiara and the impressive matching parure that is currently owned by the Royal Family of Sweden.  To start, as previously mentioned, the Cameo Tiara was thought to have been originally commissioned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte for his wife Josephine along with a necklace, bracelet and a pair of earrings, a brooch was added later.  The journey of the tiara and parure started when it was inherited by Josephine’s son, Eugene de Beauharnais, and then by his daughter, Queen Josefina of Sweden and Norway. She bequeathed the cameos to her daughter, Princess Eugenie and finally the set came to Princess Sibylla, the mother of King Carl XVI Gustaf, as a wedding gift in 1932. 

Then a bridal tradition started when the sister of King Carl XVI Gustaf, Princess Birgitta wore in for her wedding in 1961 and another sister, Princess Desiree wore it on her wedding day in 1964.  Then in 1976 Silvia Sommerlath wore the Cameo Tiara when she married King Carl XVI and in the years that have followed Queen Silvia has also worn the tiara on several occasions most notably for the Nobel Prize ceremony and banquet. 

Queen Silvia wearing the Cameo tiara and the matching parure
at the Noble Prize ceremony and banquet

Thirty-four years later their eldest daughter, Victoria, the Crown Princess of Sweden wore the Cameo Tiara, earrings and bracelet on the occasion of her June 19, 2010 wedding to Daniel Westling (now known as Prince Daniel the Duke of Västergötland) at the Stockholm Cathedral. 

Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden wearing the Cameo Tiara on her wedding day

The Cameo Tiara features seven cameos; the base of the tiara is gold and the cameos are surrounded by seed pearls with additional seed pearls set in red gold that form anthemion designs.  the largest cameo in the center was made by Giuseppe Girometti and depicts Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, and her son, Cupid, the god of passion and desire.

the Cameo Tiara of Sweden

Now, let’s discuss the parure that matches the Cameo tiara.  The cameos of the parure depict profile portraits of mythological characters and were not originally intended to be used together in these pieces and this is why the cameos vary in shape and color.  Special Note:  The individual pieces of the parure are worn in various combinations most often by Queen Silvia but Princess Victoria has also wore pieces of the parure for special events.  Princess Madeleine (her parents are King Carl and Queen Silvia) wore the earrings and bracelet at the christening of her daughter, Princess Adrienne, in 2018.      

the cameo parure of Sweden shown in original case

The necklace (shown in the bottom of the case) features three cameos surrounded by diamonds and joined by three strands of pearls, originally it had four strands.   The bracelet (shown in the middle of the case) also features three cameos surrounded by diamonds and joined by four strands of pearls.  The cameo is the center of the bracelet depicts Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and justice wearing a helmet emblazoned with a horse.  The cameo on the right of the bracelet with the red tones depicts the messenger god Mercury.  The additional cameo to the left on the bracelet features another mytholical character facing in the opposite directions.  The brooch (shown at the top of the case) features a cameo depicting Napoleon Bonaparte that is surrounded by diamonds set in a scroll design.   

In regards to real-life weddings, here are a few cameo ideas and suggestions:

  • The gift of a cameo brooch or necklace would make a great gift for a bride to be given to her at her bridal shower or cameo necklaces for bridesmaid gifts given to them at the special luncheon before the wedding. 
  • A sentimental idea is that cameo jewelry would also make a thoughtful gift from the bridal couple to give to their mothers, perhaps to wear on the wedding day. 
  • Another idea is that a heirloom cameo brooch that once belonged to a grandmother could be a bride’s something old or a vintage cameo necklace from a mother could be used for something borrowed. 
  • A cameo brooch could also be attached to a bridal bouquet for a unique style. 
  • Another idea for a cameo-style decorative piece for a couple’s new home would be a carved seashell to remember a beach honeymoon.