Greek Gold Jewelry group with Alexander the Great Cameo
Greek · Late Hellenistic, 2nd - 1st century B.C.
L: 22 cm
Necklace L: 22 cm − Earrings L: 5.8 cm − Bracelets D: 7.3 cm
This set of jewelry consists of a necklace, a pair of earrings and a pair of bracelets made of gold and inlaid with glass and gemstones.
The necklace is formed by a twisted gold wire with loops at each end, five large oval cabochons and a cameo pendant. The cabochons are two amethysts, two light yellow rock crystal pieces and one dark green glass piece in gold settings. The pendant is a large cameo in a gold setting suspended from additional twisted wires below the central cabochon of green glass. The cameo portrait consists of two layers (dark for the background and white for the head) and represents Alexander the Great in the guise of Heracles, the mythological ancestor of the royal Macedonian family. One of Heracles’ renowned attributes (which recalls his first heroic deed, i.e. slaying the Nemean lion), the lion skin, is placed as a helmet on Alexander’s head, while the lion’s paws are tied in a knot on his chest. Alexander is portrayed as deified; he wears a laurel wreath. The composition of this noble and beautiful profile is definitely inspired by the image on the coins issued during his lifetime; however, the laurel wreath proper is a feature of the king’s posthumous cult following introduced by his successors. The pendant with the cameo is one of the finest among this class of jewelry. The necklace as a whole belongs to the famous type of Hellenistic necklace with bezel-set stones and central pendant, which continued to be popular throughout the Roman Imperial period (mostly those with the butterfly-shaped pendants found in the northern Black Sea area).
Recently, Mrs. D. Lobel King has put forward a rather appealing hypothesis as to the gender of the profile carved on the gem, in as much as it would represent a woman, rather than a man. And so, according to her suggestion, it would be Omphalé, the daughter of the Lydian king Iardanos. Omphalé is better known in classical mythology for her relationship with Heracles, whom, in order to purify himself from the murder of Iphitos, had to work as a slave for the Lydian queen. After his release, it is said that Herakles married Omphalé, whom, as a result, seemed to exude the bluntness of her husband.
Each earring has a tripartite pyramidal composition. The center is formed by a disk mounted with a round garnet cabochon in a band setting, surrounded by rope braid and filigree wire. There are two pins above and two posts below the disk, which held the pierced gemstones or pearls now lost. The top has a triangular shape and includes a drop-like setting for another stone also lost. The lower part has three suspended elements: two lateral chains and an amphoriskos in the middle. This elegant miniature vessel has a narrow neck with two symmetrical scroll-like handles made of filigree wire. The shoulder of the vessel is treated with petal-like settings, apparently designed for the polychrome enameled inclusions. The composition of the earring is well proportioned and based on the visual contrast between the inert solid elements and the mobile suspended components.
Each bracelet is composed of a thick gold sheet with repoussé geometric ornaments consisting of two rows of zigzags and dots. The ends are terminated with spiral volutes made of gold wire. In the middle, an oval-shaped cameo in a gold setting is attached to the band with the aid of tiny wire loops. The cameo has a dark background and features a resting dog modeled in opaque white and light brown colors. The representation of the dog is charming, as it captures the characteristic moment of a dog at rest (head on forelegs); it is unusual, moreover, because the animal is shown from above.
These pieces of jewelry are beautiful examples of the polychrome inlay style in Late Hellenistic jewelry. The colorful inlays and enamels were carefully chosen to separate the various elements in the design; their combination makes the composition attractive and distinguished.
Very good condition, despite a slight deformation of the gold settings and minor cracks in the stones. Some inlays lost; possible small restorations (gold wire).
Art market, prior to the 1970s;
Formerly, Swedish private collection, collected in the 1970s;
European private collection, 2002.
DE JULIIS E.M., Gli ori di Taranto in età ellenistica, Milan, 1984, p. 166, no. 80b.
DEPPERT-LIPPITZ B., Griechischer Goldschmuck, Mainz/Rhine, 1985, pp. 283-286, figs. 215-216.
HIGGINS R.A., Greek and Roman Jewellery, Berkeley, 1980, p. 179, pl. 55.
HOFFMANN H. and DAVIDSON P.F., Greek Gold: Jewelry from the Age of Alexander, Boston, 1965.
MORDVINTSEVA V.I. and TREISTER M.Y., Toreutik und Schmuck im nördlichen Schwarzmeergebiet, 2 Jh. v. Chr.-2 Jh. n. Chr., Simferopol-Bonn, 2007, Vol. 2, p. 46, no. A 129.1; p. 105, no. A 335.1, p. 106, no. A 340.1; p. 129, no. B 28.5; p. 130, no. B 29.1; p. 144, no. C 10.3; pp. 144-145, no. C 11.1; pp. 168-169, no. D 6.1; p. 169, nos. D 7.2, D 7.3, D 7.4, D 7.8; pp. 171-172, no. E 4.4; Vol. 3, pl. 31, 46, 55, 67-68, 75-77.
TROFIMOVA A.A. (ed.), Greeks on the Black Sea: Ancient Art from the Hermitage, Los Angeles, 2007, pp. 128-129, no. 41.
About Omphalé: Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), vol. VII, Zurich -Munich, 1994, pp. 45-53.
The British Museum
The British Museum
The Metropolitan Museum of Art