Cameo; onyx; Entry into the Ark; on left stands Noah, classically draped, extending his right hand towards an angel descending from above; before him are five pairs of animals: lions, horses, goats, sheep and dogs; behind these is the Ark, gabled structure seen from the end, with two opened folding-doors, within which is visible the head of an ox; a dove flies down, before the gable, upon which is perched a cock; on the right corner stands a long-legged water-bird; above are an eagle(?) and other birds; on right of Ark stand bearded figures of Shem, Ham and Japhet, behind whom are their wives with the wife of Noah; figures all draped in antique manner; inscribed; in contemporary gold frame pounced on the back with floral designs.
- Made in: Florence
- (Europe,Italy,Tuscany,Florence (province),Florence)
- Length: 64 millimetres
- Width: 73 millimetres
- Depth: 7.9 millimetres
Inscription Positiondoors of Ark
Inscription TransliterationLaurentius Medices
Text from Dalton 1915, Catalogue of Engraved Gems:
Reproduced by A. Gori on the title-pages of all three volumes of his Thesaurus veterum diptychorum, and in his edition of Condivi's Vita di Michelangelo Buonarroti, p. 80 (Florence, 1746); Burlington Magazine, xxiii, 1913, p. 131. The gem is in a contemporary gold frame pounced on the back with floral designs, as described in the early Medici inventory quoted by E. Müntz in Revue Archéologique, 1879, p.246: un chammeo grande leghato in oro, chiammato l'Archa, entrovi 8 figure, 4 maschi e 4 femine, 1 agnolo in aria, 1 choppia di chavalli, 2 lioni et piu altri animali, punzonato da rovescio cho fogliami.
The existence of the gem among the collections of Lorenzo is thus doubly authenticated, by this mention in the inventory, and by the name engraved on the doors of the Ark, in the form in which it occurs on other gems at Florence and Naples. (For a list of these, see E. Müntz, Les Précurseurs de la Renaissance, 1882, pp. 190-3). Its history during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries does not seem to be known; the next mention of it dates from 1737, when Mariette records its presence in Paris, not long before its purchase by the fourth Earl of Carlisle. Amost contemporary plaquettes reproduce the subject (examples in the Dreyfus Coll. at Paris , and in the Kaiser Frederich-Museum at Berlin, no. 975).
By Gori and by E. Molinier (Les plaquettes, no. 1) this cameo was regarded as antique. But Mariette was surely right in attributing it to a Florentine engraver of Lorenzo's time. He himself noted a certain similarity to the work of Ghiberti (Traité des pierres gravées, ii, p. 417); and the engraver is to some extent influenced by that artist's manner. But the freedom of the style, especially in the case of the nude son of the patriarch on the right, brings the gem down rather too late in the fifteenth century to allow any immediate connexion with Ghiberti. The attribution to Pollaiuolo, suggested by C.W. King, cannot be seriously entertained; the name of Domenico dei Cammei, proposed by Sir A.W. Franks, is more probable, though the work of this engraver has only survived in very few examples illustrating his talent as a portraitist, but affording little idea of his powers of composition.
Cameos with subjects from the Book of Genesis, sometimes with accompanying words from the Hebrew text, were made with some frequency during the Renaissance. Among the most interesting are an expulsion from Eden at Vienna (cf. Introduction, Figure 15); the large onyx with Joseph being shown the cup from Benjamin's sack, at St. Petersburg, apparently at one time in the possession of Pope Paul II, and subsequently in the Orléans Collection (Tassie, no. 13832); and a cameo in the Royal Collection at Windsor with the same subject (Archaeologia, xiv, no. 43, pl. ii). The Imperial Museum at Vienna possesses two gems with the story of Noah, conjecturally attributed to Matteo dal Nassaro (J. Arneth, Die Cinque-Cento Cameen, pl. i, nos. 27, 28 and p. 42).
Another cameo in the Collection, the lion, no. 232, bears the legend LAVR. MED, and must have formed part of the Medici Collection. For a list of the gems in Florence and Naples bearing this inscription, see Müntz, Les Précurseurs de la Renaissance, pp. 190-2 (1882).
2010 25 Mar-27 Jun, Italy, Florence, Museo degli Argenti, The Art of Excellence: The Gem Collection of the Medici and its fortunes from the 15th to the 18th century
2006-2007 5 Oct-7 Jan, London, V&A, The Renaissance Home: Life and Art in the Italian House, 1400-1600
1999-2000 20 Oct-16 Jan, London, The National Gallery, Florence in 1470's
1977 London, BM, Animals in Art
6 July 2006
Reason for treatment
General clean/ remove light tarnish on the gold.
General good condition. The surface is a little tarnished and dull. On the reverse there is little dirt/ cleaning residue clogged in the details of the engraving.
The surface of the gold cleaned with White spirit on cotton wool and IMS on cotton wool. The surface on the reverse steam cleaned and dried with tissue paper. The front remained slightly dull and was therefore lightly polished using White spirit with Silvo silver and chrome (cotton wadding,white spirit,Newburgh chalk,china clay) on cotton wool swabs, followed by subsequent swabbing with White spirit and IMS on cotton wool.
- Associated Event: Entry into the Ark
- Associated Event: Flood
Prehistory and Europe
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Object reference number: MCN12364
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