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Details
A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO OF MEDUSA
CIRCA 1ST CENTURY A.D.
Cameo: 1 5/8 in. (4 cm.) long; Mount: 2 3/8 in. (6 cm.) long
Provenance
Gabriel Medina, Livorno and Leghorn, acquired by 1742.
A Catalogue of the Genuine and Capital Collection of Antique Gems of Signor De Medina, Late of Leghorn, Merchant, Deceased, Langford, Covent Garden, 10-12 February 1761, lot 71.
William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough (1704-1793), Parkstead House, Roehampton.
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 105.
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 105.
Rathbone, acquired from the above (according to auctioneer's book).
Arthur Sanderson (1846-1915), Edinburgh.
A Catalogue of the Well-Known Collection of Works of Art, Formed by Arthur Sanderson, Esq. of 25, Learmonth Terrace, Edinburgh, Knight, Frank and Rutley, London, 12-14 June 1911, lot 323.
Cutler, acquired from the above (according to auctioneer's book).
Giorgio Sangiorgi (1886-1965), Rome, acquired and brought to Switzerland, late 1930s; thence by continuous descent to the current owners.
Literature
Catalogo del prezioso museo di pietre intagliate e cammei appresso le signore de Medina in Livorno, Livorno, 1742, p. 10, no. 6.
L. Natter, Catalogue des pierres gravées, tant en relief, qu'en creux de Mylord Comte de Bessborough, London, 1761, p. 37, no. 32.
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. 151, no. 326.
J. Boardman and C. Wagner, Masterpieces in Miniature: Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Present, London, 2018, p. 239, no. 223.
Beazley Archive Gem Database no. 326.

Lot Essay

The head of Medusa, also known as the gorgoneion, was perhaps "the most ubiquitous subject employed for cameos" during the Roman Period (p. 183 in M. Henig and H. Molesworth, The Complete Content Cameos). When used in jewelry it was thought to have amuletic or apotropaic properties, conferring protection to the wearer, including from the Evil Eye. The subject was popular already in the Archaic period in Greece, when she was depicted as a ferocious monster. By the Hellenistic period, the image became more humanized. During the Roman period, the type is typically shown either frontally or slightly turned, as here, with wings in her hair, the face framed by serpents. The most common materials were sardonyx, chalcedony, carnelian or glass imitating them. The present example is considerably larger than most, and by far one of the finest in existence. It was mounted as a pendant in a gold frame, most likely in the 18th century.

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