There’s a reason why the art of cameo carving has enraptured each new generation since it developed as an art form circa 300 B.C. Early cameos conveyed meaningful symbols of its era. Mythical portrayals figured heavily into earliest cameo carvings. The general population in ancient times relied heavily on visual images for effective storytelling. Think of primeval cathedrals and religious houses of worship throughout the world. Evocative storytelling paintings, frescos, sculptures, and friezes populated public spaces, government buildings, and houses of worship at a time when most people were illiterate.
Cut for Realism
Large early cameos served a similar purpose of portraying special events, religious stories, mythological tales, and historical moments to great effect. The critical aspect of cameo carving is its splendid use of depth and perspective achieved by carving through layers in the cameo material revealing contrasting colors of material. Cameo’s bands of color occurring in natural agate and Helmut shell allow a carving artist to create realistic images. Now for sure, cameos can be carved from non-banded material that can’t aid in creating perspective. Mother of pearl, onyx, coral, lava, even colored gems can be cut into cameos. We see these materials used in modern and antique jewelry all the time. But a bas-relief (the raised effect) is beautifully achieved when banded material is used to create the cameo carving.
Their importance as a marker of history is invaluable. But we must also develop a deep appreciation for the tremendous skill involved in bringing these stories to life. Cameo carving may not be a completely lost art, but today the masters of this art form are a smaller elite sector to be sure.
Perfecting the Art over Generations
The finest cameo carvers honed their skills from masters before them, and in many cases, it was a family affair. The name Idar Oberstein comes to mind when the cognoscenti think about world-class cameo carvers. This German region is home to superb cameo carvers boasting a long history of family carvers.
Tradition in Carving
The Roth Cameo Company in Idar Oberstein for example, features a family of master carvers going back generations to at least the 18th century. Cameos by father/son team Hans-Dieter and Andreas Roth have wowed collectors for decades throughout Europe, Japan, the US and well beyond. At gem shows around the world, including the legendary Tucson GemFair held annually in Tucson, AZ, exhibits of Roth Cameos have held visitors spellbound for decades.
See it Up Close
Cameo enthusiasts are in for a special treat this winter-spring season here in the US. The distinguished Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, Oak Brook, IL brought some of Andreas Roth’s cameos to the mid-west for an extended show. It goes through April 16, 2022.
The special exhibit of 14 large cameos, The Artful Soul of Faust, features carved depictions of the famed German classic story of Faust. The Lizzadro Museum is the first to premiere this breathtaking cameo exhibit in the US.
If you’re already in the region, or travels take you to the Chicago area anytime up to mid-June, you’re in for a treat. Lizzadro Museum 630-833-1616.