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A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO WITH A DRAPED BUST OF A JULIO-CLAUDIAN PRINCE
A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO WITH A DRAPED BUST OF A JULIO-CLAUDIAN PRINCE
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A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO WITH A DRAPED BUST OF A JULIO-CLAUDIAN PRINCE

CIRCA EARLY 1ST CENTURY A.D.

Details
A ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO WITH A DRAPED BUST OF A JULIO-CLAUDIAN PRINCE
CIRCA EARLY 1ST CENTURY A.D.
Cameo: 1 7/16 in. (3.6 cm.) long; mount: 3 7/8 in. (9.8 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 392.
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 392.
with Francis E. Whelan (1848-1907), London, acquired from the above (according to auctioneer's book).
Wyndham Francis Cook (1860-1905), London; thence by descent to his son, Humphrey W. Cook (1893-1978), London.
An Important Collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities and Antique and Renaissance Gems, the Property of Humphrey W. Cook, Esq.; Christie's, London, 14-16 July, 1925, lot 65.
with Spink, London, acquired from the above (according to auctioneer's book).
S.E. Lucas, Esq. (1883-1970), London.
The Property of S.E. Lucas, Esq.; Fine Hardstone Cameos, Intaglios, French Paperweights, Coins and Works of Art, Christie's, London, 14 February 1961, lot 88.
with H.E. Backer, London and Rome, acquired from the above (according to auctioneer's book).
Giorgio Sangiorgi (1886-1965), Rome, acquired and brought to Switzerland; 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. 2, no. 4.
J. Bryant, Gemmarum antiquarum delectus ex præstantioribus desumptus, quæ in dactyliothecus ducis Marlburiensis conservantur. Choix de pierres antiques grave´es du cabinet du Duc de Marlborough, vol. 1, London, 1783, no. 12.
S. Reinach, Pierres gravées des collections Marlborough et d'Orléans, Paris, 1895, p. 113, no. 12, pl. 109.
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. 68, no. 392.
The Marlborough Gems, manuscript album and photographs, 1875, pl. 3.2.
C. H. Smith and C. A. Hutton, Catalogue of the Antiquities (Greek, Roman and Etruscan) in the Collection of the Late Wyndham Francis Cook, Esq., London, 1908, p. 66, no. 284, pl. 14.
J. Boardman, et al., The Marlborough Gems, Formerly at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, London, 2009, p. 169, no. 372.
J. Boardman and C. Wagner, Masterpieces in Miniature: Engraved Gems from Prehistory to the Present, London, 2018, p. 229, no 215.
Beazley Archive Gem Database no. 372.

Lot Essay

This impressive two-layer sardoynx, white on brown, is sculpted with the frontal bust of a Julio-Claudian prince in extremely high relief. He wears a tunic with a V-shaped neckline and a toga over his left shoulder, their vertical folds well-articulated. He has a somewhat pointed chin, a slender nose and prominent ears. In his short wavy locks he wears a laurel wreath. The cameo was mounted as a pendant in a gold frame, the ensemble further set into an elaborate openwork gold mount embellished with gems including peridot, garnets and amethysts, all typical work of the 18th century and perhaps commissioned by Bessborough. According to Boardman et al., (op. cit., p. 169), an Italian bronze plaquette copied from the cameo that was on the market in 2008 suggests it was already known in the Renaissance.

The identity of this Julio-Claudian prince has been the subject of debate since its first publication in the 18th century. Natter (op. cit., p. 2) considered it a portrait of Germanicus; for Bryant it is a young Augustus; all subsequent views vacillate between these two. Based on comparison to two other frontal cameos, Germanicus seems the most plausible (see nos. C22, a glass cameo formerly in Munich, and C23, a sardonyx cameo in the British Museum, in W.-R. Megow, Kameen von Augustus bis Alexander Severus). Germanicus Julius Caesar (15 B.C.–19 A.D.) was the great-nephew and step-grandson of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. In 4 A.D., he was adopted by his paternal uncle, Tiberius, who succeeded Augustus as Emperor a decade later. As a result, Germanicus became an official member of the gens Julia, another prominent family whom he was related to on his mother's side. His connection to the Julii was further consolidated through a marriage between himself and Agrippina the Elder, a granddaughter of Augustus. Although Germanicus died of mysterious circumstances while on campaign in the East, two of his descendants would become emperor, his son Caligula and his grandson Nero.

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