17th July – 28th Sept 2008

Antique meets Contemporary

Victorian Shell Cameo brooch carved with three putti (hovering angels) within victorian 9ct gold mount - £1,550.
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About Us


Up until the Victorian period the ownership of jewellery was only for those who were extremely wealthy or aristocratic. Now there were more wealthy people around who were collecting whatever was fashionable. A successful Victorian business would show he had “made it” by the quantity of fabulous jewellery he bought for his wife. Those who were extremely wealthy bought the finest originals and hand made jewellery. Others would purchase the best of the manufactured that they could afford. Key gemstones and styles of jewellery have throughout history illustrated power and politics within jewellery.

Pliny described pearls as “the richest commodity of all, the most sovereign commodity throughout the whole world”. The price of pearls tripled in the first sixty years of the C17th – as detailed by Robert de Beghen in “Les Merveilles des Indes, 1662”. Mrs Morton Plant exchanged the freehold of her six storey Fifth Avenue mansion with Pier Cartier’s two strings of natural pearls respectively 55 and 73 pearls in 1916. Natural pearls are in high demand in the current market.

A cameo describes a stone carved in relief. In ancient times the cameo served as an amulet, a talisman, a way to depict morals and ethics through its subject matter and a way to display one’s faith. Wearing cameos that depicted the ruling monarch showed a loyalty and could guarantee safety.

In the Roman days cameos were carved as amulets or charms. By the Renaissance the ancient myths which were carved into the cameos as well as the gods, goddesses which were copied from classics were considered as art objects of high intellect. Scenes such as Eros and Psych and Leda and the Swan were popular. Cameos were worn on clothing and mainly mounted as brooches in gold. Smaller examples would be mounted as rings or in necklaces. During the Renaissance men would wear them as Hat Badges also known as “enseigne” – emphasising their power, intellect and wealth. These badges originated from the medieval pilgrim insignia sold at religious shrines. Those who had a classical education preferred antique cameos mounted in contemporary settings. Religious subjects were believed to reflect the wearers’ devotion to his patron saint. Good quality agate suitable for carving began to run out in the middle of the C16th and carvers turned to shell.

Elizabeth I was one of the first who gave cameos in the form of brooches or pendants as gifts to her loyal subjects for favours or as payment for a particular service. The Armada Jewels was designed by Nicholas Hilliard and is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It has the profile of Elizabeth carved on one side and is mounted on a background of lapis lazuli. Enamel and diamond detail decorates the whole of the cameo. The back of the jewel is engraved and enamelled with the design of an ark caught in a storm.

During the C18th every man wanted a crest of his own carved in cameo as a mark of prestige and culture. Crests, mottos and allegorical subject matters were popular, particularly in seals.

The quality of carving seemed to be deteriorating but this didn’t seem to matter and they remained a cultural status symbol. A surviving letter from the period describes how a woman writes to her lover and mentions that a friend visiting her “says seals are much in fashion and by showing me some she has set me alonging for some too” she also says “She wears twenty strung on a ribbon like nuts boys play with and I don not hear of anything else”.

The ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii were popular tourist attractions. Women wanted to wear shell cameos which depicted these places or elements of them, as this showed they were a well travelled person of cultivated taste.

Collectors of Cameos include
Catherine the Great who employed English carvers William and Charles Brown for over ten years There cameos were extremely fine and at one time over 400 stones were displayed at the Hermitage. One of the most fascinating subjects amongst her collection was a series depicting the Russian Victory over Turkey in the war of 1787 to 1791.
Empress Josephine. Napoleon’s first wife. She broke up some of the old royal jewellery taken from the kings of France so that she could make up complete jewellery parures. Popularity of shell cameos was revived in the C19th . But designs did tend to be repetitive and mass produced. Again fine examples would stand out as a sign of power and wealth.

Jewellery was mainly used with green, white and violet stones and enamelling. This symbolised “Give Women the Vote”. Stones also have further meanings
Green stood for Hope
White for Purity
Violet for Dignity
Wearing these jewels was a way of women identifying other women who had similar political aspirations. Many pieces are well made as most of the campaign leaders were from wealthy families. Women from lower classes would also want to show their solidarity and would wear cheaper pieces or paste set jewellery.

Emblem of French Kings.
According to legend Clovis chose it as the emblem of his purification by baptism when he embraced Christianity ( the lily symbolising purity) but not officially adopted by the monarchy until C12th.

Now & Then runs from 17th July to 28th September 2008. Salts Mill is open weekdays from 10am – 5.30pm and weekends 10am – 6pm. For further information call 01274 599790.

Artists taking part in Power & Politics are: Ruudt Peters; Laura Deakin; Inger Larsen; Silke Spitzer;
Anti-War Medals
by Susanne Matsche; Emily Bullock; Susanne Osborn.
Power & Politics Antique pieces. Other themes: Memento Mori; Sentiment & Sex; The Lighter Side.