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The Noah Cameo


Length: 5.300 cm

M&ME 1890,9-1,15

Room 40: Medieval Europe

    The Noah Cameo

    Medieval, about AD 1200-1250
    Probably made in Sicily, or Southern Italy

    Miniature clues

    This cameo is carved from onyx, with a scene of the family of Noah leaving the ark. It is one of very few surviving cameos from the medieval period, helping to demonstrate that the production of high quality cameos continued in the post-Roman period and into the high Middle Ages.

    The gold pendant that frames it is also of the highest quality and is typical of French, and specifically Burgundian, work of the late fifteenth century. It is decorated with finely delineated floral motifs.

    The cameo would have been a highly prized work of art from its very beginnings. Who commissioned it? Its early history is unknown but the quality of its workmanship suggests that it was probably a product of the workshop of the patron Frederick II (1194-1250), king of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor, either in Sicily or southern Italy.

    The value of cameos to the collector is indicated by the fact that classical cameos were often incorporated into medieval objects. The 'Noah cameo' was clearly considered to be of enough importance for it to be mounted in its present frame over two hundred years after itwas originally made. It is described in the inventories of the Medici collection in 1465. On close scrutiny the letters LAVR.MED can be seen inscribed on the doors of the Ark, identifying Lorenzo 'Il Magnifico' de' Medici, ruler of Florence (1469-92) as one of the cameo's illustrious owners.

    I. Jenkins and K. Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir Willi (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)

    H. Tait, Seven thousand years of jewe-1, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)

    J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)