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

Italian or British

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 eighteenth century 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.

A "Marlborough Gem": Bust of a woman in profile, her back to the spectator, Onyx, glued to a dark brown sardonyx (?) ground, mounted in gold for display, with enamel, smaller cameos, and a pearl, Italian or British

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