Hand-Carved Shell from Ancient Rome

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Humans have carved shells for thousands of years and the masters came from Greece and Rome. This shell is an example of ancient quality work on Cameo Shells.

Cameos are often worn as jewelry, but in ancient times were mainly used for signet rings and large earrings, although the largest examples were probably too large for this and were just admired as objets d'art. Stone cameos of great artistry were made in Greece dating back as far as the 3rd century BC.

Specific to Shell carvings, although occasionally used in Roman cameos, the earliest prevalent use of shell for cameo carving was during the Renaissance, in the 15th and 16th centuries. Before that time, cameos were carved from hardstone.

Classically the designs carved onto shells or stones were either scenes of Greek or Roman mythology or portraits of rulers or important dignitaries. Such shell carvings were often gifts from royalty to their subjects and are found in museums or in private collections.