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[Tidbits] Glyptic Art

To wit… the field of carved stones. Let us hearken back to earlier
times. The 3rd century b.c. would be nice. And perhaps to the large
stones belonging to a sequence of hereditary rulers of the
Hellenistic era… to the rulers of Egypt perhaps. Don’t worry folks.
We’re narrowing this baby down. Enter Ptolemy II Philadelphus–king
of Ptolemaic Egypt–and his wife Arsinoe-- about whom I find little
Discrimination–it would appear–heralds back to even
earlier times than one might suspect.

Which brings us to something called The Gonzaga Cameo.

So there they were… the loving couple… who clearly wanted their
images preserved for posterity and for all to see and love and
admire. I extrapolate. They wanted no more and no less than other
mortals ever wanted… past, present, or future. Of course… the
fact that they were both venerated as gods in Egypt should play
little role when using comparisons with the hoi-polloi. After all…
we have their traits and they have ours. I am sure we both used the
commode in similar fashions.

And now we arrive–by way of magnificent segue–to the outlandish
gorgeousity of the three-layered sardonyx. It is from the Capita
Jugata variety. For those of you who feel inclined to tell me there
is no such word as gorgeousity… to you I say humbug. It’s there
isn’t it? In plain print. For all to see… no? And if it’s there…
it exists. Ah logic… thine name is clearly Benjamin.

It is from this sardonyx from which a cameo was cut. The craftsman
who did the cutting was extraordinarily skilled. He used complex
color effects. A lower dark layer serves as a background for the
light matte profiles of our protagonists which stand out clearly in
contrast. And then there’s the use of the dark upper layer used to
carve out Pto’s helmet and hair.

It was the centerpiece of a collection of antiquities as represented
in the 1542 inventory of Isabella d’Este.

As to the name of the cameo and how it came to being… no problem my
compatriots. It comes from the Italian Dukes of Gonzaga who owned it
in the sixteenth century. Quite simple… eh wot. And quaint too…
wouldn’t you say?

It was once owned by Peter Paul Rubens. Then–during the War of the
Mantuan Succession --it was carried off to Vienna and preserved in
the Prague Castle treasury. And then it resurfaced in the collection
of Christina of Sweden and then–after a few more “it’s mine… no
it’s mine” moments in history… it landed–yup… you guessed it–in
the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. I must reluctantly
confess–at this point–to a sort of like I have for that place. Its
fascination is endless. What can I do? I yam what I yam. For those of
you who are new to this thing called Tidbits…may I direct you to my
home page at where you will scroll down the
left side menu till you get to the area that says Current Tidbits…
click it… and you will see represented on our pages an image of The
Gonzaga Cameo.

And there ya have it. That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.
Benjamin Mark

Loved reading about this, and the cameo is truly unforgettable!