Cameo with Hercules and the Nemean Lion within a Garland

Date: ca. 1220–40

Culture: South Italian

Medium: Sardonyx with modern gold frame

Dimensions: Overall: 1 5/8 x 1 7/16 x 5/16in. (4.2 x 3.6 x 0.8cm)

Classification: Lapidary Work-Sardonyx

Credit Line: The Milton Weil Collection, 1938

Accession Number: 38.150.23


This cameo shows Hercules, the great strongman of classical mythology, strangling the lion of Nemea, whose skin was impervious to wounds. In the Middle Ages, Hercules was regularly aligned with other figures of heroic fortitude, including Samson, Christ, and contemporary rulers. The medieval gem carver may have modeled his work on an ancient coin or cameo. This cameo was probably carved around 1220 in southern Italy in the circle of Frederick II, an ardent promoter of classical culture and imagery. In the mid 14th century, a similar cameo is described in the collection of the future king of France, Charles V.