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A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO WITH A PORTRAIT OF THE EMPEROR NERO
A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO WITH A PORTRAIT OF THE EMPEROR NERO

CIRCA MID 1ST CENTURY A.D.

Details
A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO WITH A PORTRAIT OF THE EMPEROR NERO
CIRCA MID 1ST CENTURY A.D.
Cameo: 1 5/16 in. (3.3 cm.) long; Mount: 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm.) long
Provenance
William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough (1704-1793), Parkstead House, Roehampton, acquired by 1761.
George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, acquired from the above, circa 1765; thence by descent to his son, George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough (1766-1840), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire; thence by descent to his son, George Spencer-Churchill, 6th Duke of Marlborough (1793–1857), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire; thence by descent to his son, John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough (1822-1883), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire.
The Marlborough Gems: Being a Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, Christie's, London, 28 June-1 July 1875, lot 406.
David Bromilow (1809-1898), Bitteswell Hall, Leicestershire, acquired from the above; thence by descent to his daughter, Julia Harriet Mary Jary, Bitteswell Hall, Leicestershire, 1898.
The Marlborough Gems: A Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, Purchased by the Late David Bromilow, Esq., of Bitteswell Hall, Lutterworth, the Property of Mrs. Jary, Christie's, London, 26-29 June 1899, lot 406.
Charles Newton-Robinson (1853-1913), London, acquired from the above (according to the auctioneer's book).
Catalogue of the Valuable and Important Collection of Engraved Gems Formed by Charles Newton-Robinson Esq., Christie's, London, 22 June 1909, lot 111.
Giorgio Sangiorgi (1886-1965), Rome, acquired and brought to Switzerland, late 1930s; thence by continuous descent to the current owners.
Literature
L. Natter, Catalogue des pierres gravées, tant en relief, qu'en creux de Mylord Comte de Bessborough, London, 1761, p. 3, no. 6.
M.H. Story-Maskelyne, The Marlborough Gems: Being a Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, 1870, p. 70, no. 406.
J. Boardman, et al., The Marlborough Gems, Formerly at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, London, 2009, p. 170, no. 374.
J. Boardman and C. Wagner, Masterpieces in Miniature: Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Present, London, 2018, p. 197, no. 183.
Beazley Archive Gem Database no. 374.

Lot Essay

This extremely fine three-layer sardonyx cameo depicts the bust of a young Emperor Nero facing left. The flesh and parts of the mantle are cut in the white layer, with the upper brown exploited for the laurel wreath and details of the mantle, all against a light brown, almost translucent ground. The ties of his wreath flutter behind his head. The gem was set as a pendant in a gold mount with a twisted wire edge, probably in the 18th or 19th century.

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (15 December 37-9 June 68 A.D.) was the last Emperor of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty. He was Augustus' great-great grandson, descended from the first Emperor's only daughter Julia. Nero became emperor in 54 A.D., aged sixteen years. In addition to the present cameo, several others are known that also depict the youthful Emperor, suggesting perhaps that all were commissioned to commemorate his ascension to the throne. See for example no. 74 in M. Henig and H. Molesworth, The Complete Content Cameos; no. 297 in M.-L. Vollenweider, Deliciae Leonis; and no. A93, pl. 34 in W.-R. Megow, Kameen von Augustus bis Alexander Severus. His coin portraits from the first years of his reign display a similar style, especially in the treatment of his hair (see nos. 188-189 in J. Kent, Roman Coins).

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