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Cameo Effect: The Interesting Origins & Uses of Cameos Throughout History

Tanzy Ward

Antique Cameos


Historically, cameos have been used for a variety of purposes throughout different regions since the B.C Era. In ancient times, the cameo was used to represent sentimental meanings in the form of carved portraits on hard gemstones. In Ancient Greece during the Hellenistic Age & in Ancient Rome, intricately carved stone or glass cameos showcased admirable artistry in the form of large earrings, signet rings, and grand cups. In Ancient Egypt, early cameo examples includes the carving of figurines into small rocks for sentimental eventful dates. During the Renaissance Era in the 15th & 16th centuries, shell cameos carved from mussel or cowry were popularized collectibles. 

Cameos have been historically linked to designs representing mythological stories or Roman & Greek rulers/dignitaries. During the 19th century, young women completing Grand Tours of Europe began collecting cameos as souvenirs. Two of the most popular souvenir cameo designs during this time were created from petrified colorful lava for highly detailed carvings, and portraits of women carved into black jet stone or glass, as shown above, during the Victorian Era (c.1837-1901). 

While cameos were often synonymous with a certain status level in society or expensive artistic designs of noble importance, the 20th century introduced more mass produced mainstream designs. Replicas of antique cameo styles became popular & inexpensive for everyday wear. Today, cameos are still highly sought after collectibles that are showcased in a variety of ways. Modern designers often take substantial inspiration from antique historical cameo art, which includes the reproduction of Roman, Greek, & Victorian Era designs. Thousands of years later, the cameo effect is still loved and fascinating in modern times. 

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