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Cameo Gem Set into a Mount
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Unknown
Roman gem, A.D. 100 - 300; Mount: 1800s
Sardonyx and gold
1 3/16 x 1 1/8 in.
2001.28.12

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The head on this cameo is the mythical Medusa, one of the three Gorgons, sisters whose appearance was so horrifying that anyone who looked at them turned to stone. Invariably, Medusa is depicted with snakes growing from her head; this Medusa also has a pair of wings on her forehead.

It was the Greek hero Perseus who beheaded Medusa as she slept, and her decapitated head, called the gorgoneion, is very commonly represented in art. The head was believed to have the power to deflect evil, and cameos like this were thought to protect the wearers from harm. By 600 B.C., Medusa began to be represented with a beautiful face, and the particular type of Medusa seen on this cameo is well-known in Roman sculpture.

This cameo is set in an elegant filigree gold mount created by the Castellani brothers, goldsmiths and jewelers working in Rome in the 1800s, who specialized in classical designs. Originally, the mount was made with a loop attached for suspension; later, the loop was removed and a clasp-pin attached to the back.