A Vision in Lava: Cameo Portraiture and Victorian Travel Mementos

Picture this: It is the early 1800’s, late in the reign of King George of England, or perhaps early in the era of his daughter, Queen Victoria.

You are a young person of means, a lady or gentleman partaking of a Grand Tour of Europe before beginning a career or marriage. As you travel, through France, across the Alps, into the heart of Italy and the origins of the Roman Empire, you seek souvenirs, mementos to bring home with you for loved ones, or yourself. A person with some wealth, you turn down cheap trinkets, and seek finer art objects to commemorate your travels.

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Prince Maximilian and Her Imperial and Royal Highness Princess Margarete of Thurn and Taxis, married July 15, 1890

Archaeology is hugely popular with the aristocracy at this time, and the ballrooms and dining salons that you left behind in England were decorated with artifacts from Egypt, South America and Africa. With this influence, your eye is drawn to the classical figures, especially here in Italy, where ancient Roman gods and goddesses are depicted in exquisite sculpture.

As your tour brings you closer to Pompeii, the ancient city buried in a second under the lava and ash of Mount Vesuvius thousands of years before, you find just the thing! Your choice is a Lava Cameo carved from the ancient basalt.

Historical view of the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, Italy, with Mount Vesuvius in the distance. This image was taken in the late 1800s.

Historical view of the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, Italy, with Mount Vesuvius in the distance. This image was taken in the late 1800s.

Crafted by a master, your Lava Cameo is an exquisite depiction of an ancient goddess, and completely unique. Your Lava Cameo embraces the Italian culture, archaeology, and is an instantly recognized symbol of status, education, and refinement.

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That is the romantic story of the lava cameo, those distinctive works of art so prized by collectors. Lava cameos remained popular and collectible for decades, fading into obscurity only at the turn of the century, when photography became an accessible and easy way to record one’s Grand Tour!

 

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