A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO PORTRAIT OF THE EMPEROR CLAUDIUS
A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO PORTRAIT OF THE EMPEROR CLAUDIUS
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A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO PORTRAIT OF THE EMPEROR CLAUDIUS

CIRCA 41-54 A.D.; THE MOUNT ATTRIBUTED TO DANIEL MIGNOT, AUGSBURG, CIRCA 1593-1596

Details
A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO PORTRAIT OF THE EMPEROR CLAUDIUS
CIRCA 41-54 A.D.; THE MOUNT ATTRIBUTED TO DANIEL MIGNOT, AUGSBURG, CIRCA 1593-1596
2 7⁄8 in. (7.2 cm.) long, the cameo
3 5⁄8 in. (9.2 cm.) long, the mount
Provenance
Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel (1586-1646), Arundel House, London; thence by descent to his wife, Aletheia Talbot Howard (1585-1654), Arundel House, London; thence by gift to her son, Henry Frederick Howard, 22nd Earl of Arundel (1608-1652), Arundel House, London; thence by descent to his son, Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk (1628-1684), Arundel House, London; thence by descent to his widow, Jane Bickerton Howard (1643-1693), Arundel House, London.
Henry Mordant, 2nd Earl of Peterborough (1621-1697), Drayton House, Northamptonshire, acquired from the above, by 1690; thence by descent to his daughter, Lady Mary Mordant (1659-1705), Drayton House, Northamptonshire; thence by descent to her husband, Sir John Germain (1650-1718), Drayton House, Northamptonshire; thence by descent to his second wife, Lady Elizabeth Germain (1680-1769), Knole House, Kent; thence by descent to her great-niece, Mary Beauclerk (1743-1812), England, given to her on the occasion of her marriage to Charles Spencer (1740-1820), 1762.
George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817), Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, gifted 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 422.
David Bromilow (1809-1898), Bitteswell Hall, Leicestershire, acquired from the above; thence by descent to his daughter, Julia Harriet Mary Jary, Bitteswell Hall, Leicestershire.
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 422.
C. Davis, acquired from the above (according to auctioneer’s book).
Probably collected by Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827–1905) or Baron Gustave Samuel de Rothschild (1829-1911), Paris; thence by descent to Baron Édouard de Rothschild (1868-1949).
Confiscated from the above by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg following the Nazi occupation in Paris after May 1940 (ERR no. R 2369).
Recovered by the Monuments Fine Arts and Archives Section from the Altaussee salt mines, Austria, and transferred to the Munich Central Collecting Point, 28 June 1946 (MCCP no. 1371⁄17).
Returned to France on 11 July 1946 and restituted to the Rothschild family.
By descent to the present owners.
Literature
18th century manuscript of the Arundel Collection, no. D9 (1), as “Caput Britanici laureatum.”
A. Fountaine, The Arundel Cabinet, London, 1731, p. 8, case D, no. 9.
C.W. King, “Notices of Collections of Glyptic Art Exhibited by the Archaeological Institute in June, 1861,” The Archaeological Journal, vol. 19, 1862, p. 19, no. 301.
The Marlborough Gems, manuscript album and photographs, 1875, pls. 10.9-10.10.
N. Story-Maskelyne, The Marlborough Gems: Being a Collection of Works in Cameo and Intaglio Formed by George, Third Duke of Marlborough, London, 1870, p. 72, no. 422.
C. Newton-Robinson, "The Marlborough Gems," The Nineteenth Century, vol. 46, August 1899, p. 254.
D. Scarisbrick, “The Arundel Gem Cabinet,” Apollo, vol. 144, August 1996, pp. 45-46, fig. 1.
J. Boardman, et al., The Marlborough Gems, Formerly at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, London, 2009, p. 58, no. 61; pp. 316-317.
Exhibited
London, Archaeological Institute, Exhibition of Works of Glyptic Art, June 1861.

Lot Essay

This large and finely-carved imperial cameo is sculpted in sardonyx of three layers, orange-brown and white against a darker orange-brown background. The bust of Claudius is depicted with his body in three-quarter view with his head in profile to the left. The Emperor wears a scaly aegis fastened at his proper-left shoulder and an oak wreath, the corona civica, in his wavy hair, tied at the back of his head in a bow with the ribbon ends cascading behind his neck. He has a high, slightly-creased forehead, a deep-set articulated eye, a prominent nose, and a small rounded chin, with thin lips slightly downturned at the corners. The cameo is mounted in a circa 16th century enameled gold setting with openwork florals and scrolls at the back. From the bottom loop is suspended a drop-shaped pearl with an enameled gold and garnet cap, likely added to the mount in the late 19th or early 20th century.

Large scale cameos were a specialty of the Julio-Claudian period, and their production seemed to reach an apogee during Claudius’ reign. Most common are single subject portraits, as seen here; double portraits with emperor and spouse or intended heir are also known. In addition, there are multifigure grand cameos with dynastic or mythological narratives. Portrait cameos were probably made as gifts, serving as demonstrations of dynastic loyalty within imperial circles (see p. 78 in R.R.R. Smith, “Maiestas Serena: Roman Court Cameos and Early Imperial Poetry and Panegyric,” The Journal of Roman Studies, vol. 111).

The iconography displayed on this cameo, namely the aegis and the corona civica, are attributes of Jupiter, and indicate that Claudius was the reigning emperor. According to Smith (op. cit., p. 86), the aegis represents “supreme god-like power in Olympian terms” and is therefore an article delegated only to the realm of the emperor. Similarly, as P. Zanker notes (p. 93 in The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, p. 93), while the corona civica had military connotations, it also linked the emperor to the chief Roman god, since the oak was Jupiter’s sacred tree. Emperors are also shown with other Jovian symbols, such as the eagle or thunderbolt, as on another cameo of Claudius also once in the Marlborough Collection and now in the Art Institute of Chicago (see Boardman, et al., op. cit., p. 35, no. 2). For a similar cameo portrait of Claudius wearing an aegis and corona civica, see the example in Paris, Cabinet des Médailles, no. A74 in W.-R. Megow, Kameen von Augustus bis Alexander Severus.

This cameo has a long illustrious ownership history prior to entering the Rothschild Collection. It was first recorded in the collection of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel (1586-1646), one of the first connoisseurs of ancient engraved gemstones in England. According to D. Scarisbrick (op. cit., p. 45), much of Arundel’s collection was acquired en-masse from the dealer Daniel Nys (1572-1647) of Venice for £10,000 in 1637 after being previously offered to Charles I. It is believed that the collection sold by Nys to Arundel originated from the Gonzagas of Mantua. Although it is at present not possible to reconstruct a complete listing of Lord Arundel’s gems of Mantuan origin, there is very strong circumstantial evidence that many, if not all of the gems, do in fact originate from this ducal collection assembled during the 15th and 16th centuries (see pp. 1-12 in Boardman, et al., op. cit.).

The Arundel gems remained within in the family until about 1690, when they were then sold to Henry Mordant, 2nd Earl of Peterborough (1621-1697). At some point in the early or mid 18th century, Lady Elizabeth Germain (1680-1769), a descendant of the Earl of Peterborough, offered the Arundel gems to the British Museum for £10,000 – the same price Lord Arundel paid Nys in 1637. Upon the museum’s rejection of the gems, they were given by Lady Elizabeth to her great-niece, Mary Beauclerk (1743-1812), on the occasion of her marriage to Charles Spencer (1740-1820) in 1762.

Lord Spencer’s brother, George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817), was by then amassing “the greatest gem collection ever assembled by a private individual” in England and was gifted the Arundel gems by 1765 (Scarisbrick, op. cit., p. 46). The Arundel gems, along with the Duke’s other acquisitions, remained at Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough, until 1875, when the entire collection was purchased en-masse by David Bromilow (1809-1898), a Leicestershire-based prospector and owner of collieries, for £35,000 in a sale brokered by Christie's. Upon his death, the collection was dispersed by his daughter at Christie’s in 1899 at the storied Marlborough Gems auction. The present cameo was acquired there by the dealer C. Davis for the sum of £3,750 – the highest price paid for any gem in the sale. By comparison, the famed Felix Gem (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum) sold for £185, and the cameo depicting the initiation/wedding of Cupid and Psyche (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts) sold for £2,000. From the Marlborough sale, the cameo must have shortly thereafter entered the Rothschild Collection.

The fine Renaissance mount further adds another historical aspect to this important gem. According to Scarisbrick (pp. 314-315 in Boardman, et al., op. cit.), “the eighteenth-century Marlborough provenance is…a guarantee against the copies and pastiches of nineteenth-century origin which…were being made from 1800 onwards…to meet demand for objects to display in Renaissance style Kunstkammern.” Scarisbrick dates the mount to circa 1593-1596 and attributes it to Daniel Mignot, a German goldsmith working in Augsburg. While C.W. King (op. cit.) saw the design on the back of the mount as a fleur-de-lys within a spreading “M,” and suggested it might be read as the Florentine Giglio (the civil flag of Florence) and initial of the Medici, there is no certain documentary evidence connecting this cameo to the Medici and King’s speculation remains unfounded (for an overview of the Medici Collection of ancient gems, see J. Speier, “A Cameo from the Medici Collection,” Antike Kunst, vol. 57, pp. 76-77).

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