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Venus and Mars in Vulcan's net, an onyx cameo by Domenico Calabresi


Length: 41.000 mm

M&ME 1981,3-4,1

Room 47: Europe 1800-1900

    Venus and Mars in Vulcan's net, an onyx cameo by Domenico Calabresi

    Rome, Italy, AD 1830

    The scene depicted here illustrates an incident in the story of Vulcan, where he casts a net to entrap his wife Venus with her lover, Mars. Vulcan is drawing the attention of the gods of Olympus to this event: they are represented by the busts surrounding the scene. This remarkable cameo expresses in full the extraordinary skill of the gem engraver's art. Exploiting the naturally occurring black and white alternate layers found in onyx, Calabresi has produced a scene in high relief, deeply undercutting the net to leave it standing proud of the surface. Part of the net has been lost, but it bears the remains of Calabresi's signature.

    This well-documented cameo was long thought to be a Renaissance object, and Calabresi a sixteenth-century technical virtuoso. However, another cameo signed by Calabresi in The British Museum, depicting Venus and Mars in Vulcan's forge, is based directly on a marble relief by the Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorwaldsen (1770-1844), dated to 1814. This proves without a doubt that Calabresi was a highly skilled gem engraver working in the nineteenth century. Both the Vulcan's Net and the Vulcan's Forge cameos reflect another fascinating aspect of nineteenth-century gem engraving: although continuing to work in the classical style, gem engravers were now looking to contemporary sources for their subject matter.

    C. Gere, 'A most remarkable cameo', Jewellery Studies-5, 5 (1991)

    J. Rudoe, 'Eighteenth and nineteenth-century engraved gems in the British Museum; collectors and collections from Sir Hans Sloane to Anne Hull Grundy', Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschicht, 59 (1996)


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    On display: Room 47: Europe 1800-1900

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