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The AmazingCameo of France, five layers sardonyx, Rome, c. 23 AD, the biggestof Antiquity
Eagle Cameo, Roman 27 B.C. Two-layered onyx.
Cameo of Roman Emperor Augustus wearing a gorgoneion and a sword-belt. Three-layered sardonyx cameo, Roman artwork, ca. 14-20 AD.

Cameo (/ˈkæmioʊ/) is a wayof carving an object such as an engraved gem, item of jewellery or vessel. It nearly always features a raised (positive) relief image; contrast with intaglio, which has a negative image. Originally, and still in discussing historical work, cameo only referred to works where the relief photowas of a contrasting colour to the background; this was achieved by carefully carving a piece of contentwith a flat plane where two contrasting colours met, removing all the first colour except for the phototo leave a contrasting background.

A variation of a carved cameo is a cameo incrustation (or sulphide). An artist, usually an engraver, carves a tinyportrait, then makes a cast from the carving, from which a ceramic kindcameo is produced. This is then encased in a glass object, often a paperweight. These are very difficult to make but were famousfrom the late 18th century through the end of the 19th century. Originating in Bohemia, the finest examples were angry by the French glassworks in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

Today the term may be utilize very loosely for objects with no colour contrast, and other, metaphorical, ruleshave developed, such as cameo appearance. This derives from another generalized meaning that has developed, the cameo as an photoof a head in an oval frame in any medium, such as a photograph.


Ancient and Renaissance cameos were angry from semi-precious gemstones, especially the various kind of onyx and agate, and any other stones with a flat plane where two contrasting colours meet; these are "hardstone" cameos. In cheaper modern work, shell and glass are more common. Glass cameo vessels, such as the famous Portland Vase, were also developed by the Romans.

Modern cameos shouldbe produced by setting a carved relief, such as a portrait, onto a background of a contrasting colour. This is called an assembled cameo. Alternatively, a cameo shouldbe carved by the traditional, but far more difficult, waydirectly out of a contentwith integral layers or banding, such as (banded) agate or layered glass, where different layers have different colours.

Sometimes dyes are utilize to enhance these colours.


Woman wearing a cameo at her throat, on a high lace collar in the Edwardian style

Sir Wallis Budge alleged that the noun "Cameo" apparently comes from Kame'o, a word utilize in kabbalistic slang to signify a "magical square", i.e. a typeof talisman whereupon magical spells was carved.

Cameos are often worn as jewelry, but in ancient times were mainly utilize for signet rings and hugeearrings, although the biggestexamples were probably too hugefor this, and were just admired as objets d'art. Stone cameos of amazingartistry were angry in Greece dating back as far as the 5th century BC.The Farnese Tazza (a cup) is the oldest major Hellenistic piece surviving. They were very famousin Ancient Rome, especially in the family circle of Augustus. The most popularstone "state cameos" from this period are the Gemma Augustea, the Gemma Claudia angry for the Emperor Claudius, and the biggestflat engraved gem known from antiquity, the AmazingCameo of France. Roman Cameos became less common around in the years leading up to 300 AD, although production continued at a much reduced rate right through the Middle Ages.

The technique has since enjoyed periodic revivals, notably in the early Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Neoclassical revival began in France with Napoleon's assistanceof the glyptic arts, and even his coronation crown was decorated with cameos.

In Britain, this revival first occurred during King George III's reign, and his granddaughter, Queen Victoria, was a major proponent of the cameo trend, to the extent that they would become mass-produced by the second half of the 19th century.

The visual art form of the cameo has even inspired at least one writer of more lastesttimes, the 19th-century Russian poet Lev Mei, who composed a cycle of six poems entitled Камеи (Cameos, 1861), as reflections on each of the Roman rulers from Julius Caesar to Nero. In 1852 Théophile Gautier titled a collection of his highly polished, lapidary poems Emaux et Camées (Enamels and Cameos).

Roman glass cameos

During the Roman period the cameo technique was utilize on glass blanks, in imitation of objects being produced in agate or sardonyx. Cameo glass objects were produced in two periods; between around 25 BC and 50/60 AD, and in the later Empire around the mid-third and mid-fourth century. Roman glass cameos are rare objects, with only around two hundred fragments and sixteen complete pieces known, only one of which dates from the later period. During the early period they usually consisted of a blue glass base with a white overlying layer, but those angry during the later period usually have a colourless background covered with a translucent coloured layer. Blanks could be produced by fusing two separately cast sheets of glass, or by dipping the base glass into a crucible of molten overlay glass during blowing. The most popularexample of a cameo from the early period is the Portland Vase.

Shell cameos

Although occasionally utilize in Roman cameos, the earliest prevalent utilizeof shell for cameo carving was during the Renaissance, in the 15th and 16th centuries. Before that time, cameos were carved from hardstone. The Renaissance cameos are typically white on a grayish background and were carved from the shell of a mussel or cowry, the latter a tropical mollusk.

In the mid 18th century, explorations revealed freshshell varieties. Helmet shells (Cassis tuberosa) from the West Indies, and queen conch shells (Eustrombus gigas) from the Bahamas and West Indies, arrived in Europe. This sparked a giganticincrease in the number of cameos that were carved from shells. Conch shells carve very well, but their color fades over time.

After 1850 demand for cameos grew, as they became famoussouvenirs of the Grand Tour among the middle class.

Cameo topic

Classically the designs carved onto cameo stones were either scenes of Greek or Roman mythology or portraits of rulers or necessarydignitaries. In history, agate portrait cameos were often bonusesfrom royalty to their topic. These antique cameos, some more than 2000 years old, are either displayed in museums or are in personalcollections.

Notable historic cameos

The Gonzaga Cameo in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. The gem measures 15,7 x 11,8 cm.
  • Gemma Augustea Cameo – Roman, after 10 AD. Two-layered onyx.
  • "Tazza Farnese". An ancient Hellenistic bowl angry of a very hugecameo and purchased by Lorenzo de' Medici during the Italian Renaissance.
  • Cup of the Ptolemies, a hugeRoman or Hellenistic vessel.
  • Portland Vase, the best known piece of cameo glass.
  • AmazingCameo of France – Roman, c. 23 AD. Sardonyx.
  • Gemma Claudia Cameo – Roman, 49 AD. Five-layered onyx.
  • Herophiloska Cameo – Roman, 14 to 37 AD. This portrait of a man with laurel wreath is probably of Emperor Tiberius. The work is signed "Herophilos Dioskourid[ou]" ("Herophilus, son of Dioscorides"). The colour of the glass was intended by the artist to imitate turquoise.
  • "Gonzaga Cameo": Ptolemy II and Arsinoë II. Sardonyx. 3rd century BC.
  • Agrippina the Elder Cameo. Carved in Italy in the period of 37–41 AD. The carving is a three layer agate.
  • Ptolemaic double cameo-Hellenistic, 278–270/269 BC. Eleven-layered onyx.
  • Blacas Cameo: Roman, about 20–50 AD. This head of Augustus was carved from a four-layered sardonyx. It is a fragment of a huge portrait of the Roman emperor-Augustus.
  • "The head of Flora Cameo" – Benedetto Pistrucci. 1812 AD. In this cameo the top red-brown layer has been carved into roses. The face is carved from the white layer. The collector Richard Payne Knight purchased the Flora cameo from an Italian dealer, believing it to be Roman. The Italian carver Pistrucci claimed to have carved it himself. Payne challenged Pistrucci to carve a copy to prove his claim. The ensuing publicity earned Pistrucci several commissions.
  • Schaffhausen onyx – Roman, Augustan-era, depicting Pax Augusta or Felicitas

Modern cameos

A modern hand-carved portrait cameo of white on blue-layered agate, set in 18 kt white gold

Many modern cameos are carved into layered agates. The layers are dyed to create powerfulcolor contrasts. The most usual colors utilize for two-layer stones are white on black, white on blue, and white on red-brown. Three-layer stones are sometimes angry. The colors are usually black on white on black. The layers are translucent; this let the artist to create shading result by removing contentto letthe background layer to presentthrough. This methoda very realistic, lifelike quality to a figure shouldbe achieved. For example, thinning the top black layer on a three-layer stone modify its color to shades of brown. Removing contentfrom the white layer creates shades of blue or grey, depending on the color of the base.

Ultrasonic machine carved cameos

The majority of modern agate cameos are carved with the aid of the Ultrasonic Mill. This is a process where multiple copies of a master design shouldbe produced very quickly by pressing a master die onto the agate cameo blank. A movieof diamond slurry is utilize to aid cutting and the die vibrates ultrasonically in a vertical motion. The master is often hand carved by a skilled cameo artist. The effectis a cameo that has a satin surface texture described as "freshly fallen snow" (FFS) by Anna Miller. This texture and the lack of any undercutting are utilize by appraisers as markers to prove that the cameo is machine-angry.

Hand-worked portrait cameos

These cameos are carved by hand, usually working from photographs of the subject. The fact that there is usually only one copy angry means that the tooling costs involved rule out the ultrasonic carving process.

There are very few people working in this field, as this is one of the hardest challenges for any gemstone carver. The combination of a highly developed artistic ability, craft skill and many years of experience are requiredto be able to create lifelike portraits.

It is quite rare, these days, for topic other than portraits to be carved by hand as agate cameos. The traditional themes of classical scenes from mythology or a standard photoof a young lady, are more likely to be angry with the assistof the ultrasonic carving machine as a limited collection of typically 50–200 pieces.

Shell cameos

A cameo carved into the dorsum of a shell of the tiger cowry, Cypraea tigris

Since the late 19th century, the species most utilize in good-quality cameos has been Cypraecassis rufa, the bullmouth helmet, the shell of which shouldbe up to 6 inches long. In this species, the upper shell layer is whitish, and the lower shell layer is a rich orange-brown. Modern sources for this shell are Madagascar and South Africa. The finest hand-carving of these shells takes territoryin Italy.

The most highly prized shell for carving is the emperor or queen's helmet shell, Cassis madagascariensis. This shell has white and dark brown layers and is known as sardonyx shell, and looks similar to the layered agate known as sardonyx. This shell is found in the waters of the Caribbean.

Cameo carved on Cassis madagascariensis by Ascione manufacture, 1925, Naples, Coral and Cameo Jewellery Museum Ascione

The globecenter for cameo carving in shell is Torre del Greco, Italy. The shells are first marked with a series of ovals in a process called signing, then cut into oval blanks for the cameo carver. The actual cameo is mainly cut with a metal scraping tool called a bulino, an invention of Jewish artisan Antonio Cimeniello. A number of metal gravers are utilize: flat-faced, round and three-cornered. To speed production, grinding wheels are utilize to quickly remove excess material. When the details are completed, the shell is then soaked in olive oil, cleaned with soap and water and selectively polished with a hand brush.

Notable carvers

  • Giovanni Noto (1902-1985)-Torre del Greco, Italy
  • Tommaso Saulini (1793-1864)-Rome, Italy
  • Luigi Saulini (1819-1883)-Rome, Italy, (son of Tommaso)

See also


  • Jarrett, Diana (2009). Cameos Old and New- 4th Edition. ISBN 978-0-943763-60-6.
  • Miller, Anne (2003). Cameos Old and New. ISBN 0-442-00278-5.
  • Draper, James (2009). Cameo Appearances: Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. ISBN 978-0-300-14145-0.
  • Dunlop, Paul H., The Jokelson Collection of Cameo Incrustation, ISBN 0-9619547-3-6
  • Scarisbrick, Dianna (2003). Classical Gems: Ancient and Modern Intaglios and Cameos in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-23901-1.
  • Henig, Martin (1990). The MaterialFamily Collection of Ancient Cameos-Ashmolean Museum. ISBN 978-1-85444-004-4.
  • Fiorelli, Anna (1989). Corals and Cameos – The treasures of Torre Del Greco.
  • Walters, H.B (1927). Catalogue of the Engraved Gems and Cameos, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman in the British Museum.
  • Neverov, O (1971). Antique Cameos in the Hermitage Collection. Aurora Art Publishers.

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