Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

  • Cameo. Portraits of Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II (The Gonzaga Cameo)

    15,7x11,8 cm

Cameo. Portraits of Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II (The Gonzaga Cameo)

Egypt, Alexandria, 3rd century BC

Named after its Renaissance owners - the dukes of Mantua of the Gonzaga family- this cameo represents perhaps one of the most renowned masterpieces of Classical Antiquity. In glyptics (miniature carving on coloured stones), cameos (gems carved in high relief from multi-layered coloured stones) first appeared during the Hellenistic period (late 4th-1st centuries BC). The centre of their production was Alexandria in Egypt and it was an Alexandrian master of the 3rd century BC who carved the paired portrait of Ptoloemy II Philadelphus and his wife and sister Arsinoё II, the deified rulers of Egypt. The engraver, as well as the poet Theocritus, likened the subjects to the 'rulers of Mount Olympus', the brother and sister Zeus and Hera who contracted a "holy marriage". The passionate expression of the ruler's manly face contrasts with Arsinoё's composed classic profile. The craftsman made a skillful use of the inherent painterly qualities of the stone. As a result he carved both faces from the middle, lighter layer of agate, beneath which the third, greyish layer is seen shining through and forming a background, which creates an effect as if Arsinoe's face were in the shade. The hair, helmet and shield (aegis) of Ptolemy/Zeus are set in the upper, brown layer of stone, its light incrustations being used to represent the rosettes on the helmet and also the heads of Medusa and Phobos (personification of Fear) on the shield. Large cameos of agate - the material harder than steel - took several years to produce, which made their production extremely costly. The Gonzaga Cameo is a vivid example of the luxury of the Ptolemaic court.


Cameo. Portraits of Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II (The Gonzaga Cameo)

Place of creation:


15,7x11,8 cm

Acquisition date:

Entered the Hermitage in 1814; formerly in the collection of Alexander I

Inventory Number:




User collections including this work of art: