Cameo Appearances Exhibition

Review of the Cameo Exhibition at the Met


European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Special Exhibitions Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York – March 8, 2005–January 29, 2006.

I visited this exhibition at the Met in New York. I flew over from London, England as this exhibition was of such a high quality. I was also able to combine this visit with meeting a customer, for whom I had recently made a family cameo. We had a delightful afternoon in Central Park, where I was able to see his 3 year old daughter, who I had recently carved a cameo portrait of.

The exhibition was superb and I spent many hours over three days carefully examining the cameo carvings. My favorite was the superb jasper carving of the head of Medusa by Benedetto Pistrucci, shown above. This really is breathtaking when viewed in close up and at almost 3 inches across is of a large size.

The exhibition examined the art of hardstone carving. It traced cameo carving from Greco-Roman antiquity to the Renaissance; illuminates differences, such as those between cameos and intaglios; touches upon the making of cameo glass; and highlighted the Metropolitan’s splendid holdings of Neoclassical Italian cameos by first-rate carvers such as Pistrucci, Girometti, and Saulini.

More About the Works on View

Cameos are carved in relief on stones such as onyx, sardonyx, or agate, and arranged in variegated light- and dark-colored strata, or layers. In general, hardstone cameos are more prized than those carved in seashells, which are softer and easier to make. Carvers often manipulated the strata so that figures of two or more colors would emerge.


One atmospheric example in the exhibition is a late-sixteenth-century cameo by Alessandro Masnago. Working with a three-inch-high piece of variegated agate, the artist created a pastoral scene of a shepherdess and her flock resting in a moonlit landscape with a city in the background.

Classical and Renaissance Cameoscameo_lapis_lazuli_medici

In the Greco-Roman world, the art of cameo carving reached its peak in the first century A.D. under Emperor Augustus. The Italian Renaissance ushered in a revival of cameo carving, and the avid collecting of classical as well as contemporary cameos continued well into the nineteenth century.

Included in the exhibition is a magnificent Renaissance lapis lazuli carving of Cosimo I de’ Medici. Based on a portrait-medallion, it was first documented to be in the Medici inventory in 1588.


“Cameo of Emperor Charles V and King Phillip II of Spain”

Equally illustrious is a 1550 jugate portrait of Charles V and his son Philip II. It was carved by the great Milanese sculptor, Leone Leoni (1509–1590), as documented in a letter by the artist to Cardinal Granvella. Double Cameo Portrait of Charles V (1500–1558) and his son Philip II (1527–1598) (obverse), 1550. Carved by Leone Leoni (Italian, 1509–1590) onto white and red layered agate.

You can read more on this exhibition on the Met Museums website here.

There is also an excellent book called Cameo Appearances based on this exhibition which can be found on Amazon and other sources.

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