Art/ Collection/ Art Object

A "Marlborough Gem": Bust of a woman in profile, her back to the spectator

19th century
Italian or British
Onyx, glued to a dark brown sardonyx (?) ground, mounted in gold for display, with enamel, smaller cameos, and a pearl
Overall: 5 3/8 x 3 5/8 in. (13.7 x 9.1 cm); central cameo, visible (confirmed): 55.8 x 38.5 mm
Metalwork-Gold and Platinum
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
Not on view
This ensemble of mixed elements has a confused history that illustrates how the age-old practice of incorporating cameos into objects of greater size and complexity continued well into the nineteenth century. The large cameo, based on a Roman type in which the subject is shown from behind (for an ancient example, see 42.11.30), was reputed to have been in the collection formed by the fourth duke of Marlborough in the mid-eighteenth century. It does not, however, appear in eighteenthcentury Marlborough catalogues, and its facture and assembly are later, as is the coyly imitative over-the-shoulder view. The elaborate frame, with well-wrought war trophies, was altered by the owner who purchased it when it was added into the 1899 auction of the Marlborough collection. He replaced its plain stones with smaller cameos, also bought at that sale, of which only the theatrical mask at center left and one or two others might conceivably date from classical antiquity.
possibly Dukes of Marlborough ; Mr. David Bromilow (1875–99) ; [ Marlborough gems sale, Christie, Manson and Woods , (Bromilow), June 1899, Lot 579 ] ; Mr. Eugen Gutmann (ca. 1902; sold to J. Pierpont Morgan) ; J. Pierpont Morgan (until 1917; to MMA)
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