The cameo at the center of this exceptional pendant is a stunning example of the art of gem engraving during the Renaissance. It likely dates to the early 17th century and features a biblical scene — the Sacrifice of Isaac — in the style of the Greco-Roman era. As the story goes, God challenged Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as a sign of his faith. At the very last moment before Abraham killed his son, a messenger from God stayed his hand; the father and son then sacrificed a ram instead. This cameo depicts that final moment in the story. The central flaming altar is flanked by Abraham and Isaac preparing to sacrifice a ram, while the messenger of God stands in the left corner.
The carver brilliantly uses the natural layers of the stone to achieve the illusion of shadow and musculature on the figures. A second, smaller cameo is set at the top of the pendant, while a myriad of multi-colored gems, pearls and enamel adorns the 18K gold setting. A large Baroque pearl suspended from an enamel dragon finishes the design, which embodies the opulence and theatricality of jewels from the Renaissance age.
Cameos and intaglios were highly popular amongst wealthy connoisseurs in Renaissance Italy, and owning the finest pieces was the privilege of princes. Although they were often elaborately mounted for display alone, cameos were also frequently worn as pendants, surrounded by enameled and stone-set gold frames. Such pieces were particularly prized by the Medici and Lorraine families, many of which can now be seen at the National Archeological Museum in Florence.
Very few Renaissance cameos remain in existence and even fewer in such elaborate pendant settings. The present example is among these rarities, while others can be found in the British Royal Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Cameo: Early 17th century
Pendant: 9" high x 5" wide
14K gold chain: 16" lengthClick here to view a video of this item.