Gods and goddesses were common images used by engravers and inscribers in ancient Greece and Rome. Popular subjects were the gods such as Eros, Jupiter and Minerva, and themes relating to them, such as Leda and the swan. The shell cameo at the top of the post is probably depicting Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, as symbolized by the grapes and vine leaves on his head in the cameo pendant above.

Cameo of Flora, Goddess of Flowers (in Navette on Ruby Lane)

The shell cameo above is probably depicting Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and the season of spring as she has flowers and leaves entwined in her hair. She has been carved in Queen conch shell, which has cream and pale pink layers – very feminine.

Roman statesmen, nobles and artists were also subjects of engravers, as well wealthy patrons who paid for their portraits to be carved or inscribed or painted. In fact, up until the mid Victorian era, common images on cameos and gems continued to be taken from mythology, politicians and soldiers, lots of soldiers. In the Victorian period, though, there seemed to be more images of women who were not goddesses in cameos.

Georgian French miniature with black dot paste surround

There are more female faces to be seen in the field of miniature paintings which were worn as pendants or on bracelets. Miniatures of children, wives, and husbands were made, starting from the Elizabethan period onwards. Of course, miniatures of royalty, aristocrats, generals and other leaders were painted or engraved.

Antique hardstone cameos with three faces

The most unusual portrayal I have in jewellery are the two cameos above. If you look closely, you can see there are three faces depicted on each – one female and two male heads. These are known as grylli cameos. A gryllus is a group of cojoined heads carved as a cameo. The name derives from the Latin meaning caricature. Grylli cameos are usually strange combinations of beasts and humans, often with mythological associations.