Goddesses & Gorgons:
Rare Cameos

(Private collection)

Welcome to my private showcase of cameos - a museum of miniature treasures. I am drawn to bittersweet and downright strange subjects -- Bacchantes and Gorgons and other travelers of the thin line between myth and reality. It isn't always easy to find subjects that appeal, but once in a while I come across something that deserves to be showcased and shown to the world. So here are the contents of my private museum!

Hope you enjoy the visit.
Please don't feed the panthers.

Circa 1860s Medusa. Caramel and white colors. Museum quality. 14K Gold setting. Note the snake rising out of her hair like a stray curl. 2" x 1 5/8".

Victorian Medusa bracelet, circa 1860s. Milk and honey colors. Gold setting. 2 1/8" x 1 5/8".

Backlit view of bracelet.

Cameo in the high Romantic style, depicting an allegory of Night and Day, with a dove in the foreground bearing a cornucopia representing the coming of morning. Night wears a crown of opium poppies. Mocha and milk colors. 2 3/8" x 1 7/8".

Dramatic Bacchante or maenad cameo. The maenads, possessed by divine madness ("mania"), were madwomen seized by the frenzy and joy of drink, sex, and music. I always find it ironic, but unsurprising, that the prim Victorians gravitated towards this subject.

At first glance, many "maenad" cameos of the Victorian era look much like generalized beauties, but subtle symbolism sets them apart -- usually garlands of grapes entwined in their hair. I suspect that the wearers who selected these cameos were secretly pleased with the symbolism. They could project a "bad girl" image through the innocent filter of classicism.

This Bacchante, celebrant of Bacchus, god of wine and revelry, bears a thyrsus, a wand tipped with a pine-cone, used for self-defense and as a staff. She wears a panther skin draped over her shoulder. This carving is notable for its details: the panther's paw beside the right breast, with tiny claws and well-defined fur, the garlands and crown of grapes, and the translucent ribbons. The dark carnelian shell is coated with a high-gloss sealant. 2" x 1 5/8".

A museum-quality portrait cameo of a woman writer. This uncommon subject is an especially appropriate one for me, and for any modern woman looking for evidence that women of letters existed prior to the turn of the last century. The carving is unbelievably well-conceived, really a miniature work of art. She pauses for a moment to lean on her delicately-carved fingers, to contemplate the subject of her letter. Her quill pen is poised above a sheet of parchment, and her open inkwell rests beside a stack of books. Her turban and clothing style suggests early eighteenth-century classicism (with a tinge of orientalism), but I cannot guess when this cameo was made. Came with the original box. 2 1/2" x 2".

Thank you for stopping by and taking a look at my bestiary of gorgons and goddesses. The panthers, doves, and snakes are all pleased to have amazed you with their many-splendoured pelts and pinions. All right, the only panther on the page is Bacchante fodder, and these days, if you make a cloak out of a panther skin you'll end up in jail, and rightly so. And you probably got turned to stone the moment you looked at the Medusa. The better to add you to my stone garden, my pretty. But the dove is pleased. And there are a few panthers roaming around here that escaped the Dionysian frenzy, and I'm very glad that you didn't feed them. And you should be too.

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