The “Sangiorgi” Roman Glass Cameo of Aphrodite

Roman · 1st century A.D.




L: 7 cm

H: 3.3 cm





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This stunning blue glass cameo preserves the depiction of a young woman of exquisite beauty, with a perfectly oval face, full lips, and a beautiful straight nose. The curly locks frame her long neck; the head is covered with a veil; the thin folds at her right shoulder suggest that she is wearing a chiton of soft fabric. The young woman could be a mythological person, or rather a goddess, the image is similar to the representation of Aphrodite on the Neo-Attic relief with the inscribed names (Aphrodite above the veiled female figure) in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. It depicts a scene of the goddess of love persuading Helen to leave her husband and go off to Troy with the Trojan prince Paris.

The thickness and the flat back surface of this glass and the scale of the representation indicate that the entire work was a decorative rectangular panel indented for the architectural decoration of a room, and probably part of the series of panels to complete the entire frieze.

The technique of cameo glass used for different kinds of table vessels and decorative flat panels was invented in the 1st century B.C. It employs casting to bring two or three layers of contrasting color together. Then a rotary instrument, which powered abrasive-fed wheels, was employed to accomplish the cutting and engraving of the glass. The final polishing and detail modeling was achieved with a non-rotary tool. The area next to Aphrodite’s profile on this piece demonstrates how delicate the transition is from the upper layer toward the background. Obviously, this glass technique was intended to imitate the most expensive gemstone cameos; however, the beauty and perfection of the glass itself place such works into a category of the luxurious and highly desirable products of Roman glassmakers.


No restorations or repairs; traces of deposits; a small crack on the back side.


Formerly, G. Sangiorgi collection (1886-1965), Rome, acquired prior to 1914; thence by descent


G. Sangiorgi, Collezione di Vetri Antichi dalle Origini al V secolo D.C., Milan and Rome, 1914, no. 173.


Le Collezioni del Museo Nazionale di Napoli: La scultura greco-romana, Le sculture antiche della collezione Farnese, Le collezioni monetali, Le oreficerie, La collezione glittica, Roma, Milano, 1989, pp. 148-149, no. 261.

GOLDSTEIN S. M., RAKOW L. S., RAKOW J. K., Cameo Glass: Masterpieces from 2000 Years of Glassmaking, Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York 1982, pp. 8-29.

HARDEN D. B., Glass of the Caesars, Milan, 1988, pp. 53-57, 70-73, no. 32.

Museum Parallels

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, New York

Museo Nazionale Archeologico

Naples, Italy

Museo Nazionale Archeologico

Naples, Italy