Originally published in Castellani and Italian Archaeological Jewelry, edited by Susan Weber Soros and Stefanie Walker. Published for The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, New York. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004. 103–128.

From the exhibition: The Castellani and Italian Archaeological Jewelry.

The use of carved hardstones, dating from antiquity to the nineteenth century, in various types of jewels and other valuable objects is one of the most striking features of the Castellani production.1 Yet their design and manufacture during the seventy-odd years of the workshop’s activity has not been analyzed in detail until now. In fact, superficial treatment of the topic has sometimes led to unreliable datings of such works. This essay represents a first attempt to document, with the support of archival material, the production of jewels with engraved stones, whether ancient or of later periods, and to examine the dealings the Castellani had with contemporary Roman gem carvers.2

The Castellani made use of ancient, Renaissance, and modern intaglios and cameos for their jewels. Engraved stones had been used in jewels of the ancient world and of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, all of which inspired the Castellani. In addition the creation of cameos and intaglios had constituted one of the finest and most vital expressions of Roman artistic craftsmanship in the eighteenth century, celebrated and admired all over Europe. This craft enjoyed renewed success in the nineteenth century, when the Castellani acquired ancient stones coming on the market as well as new works of exclusively Roman “modern” engravers.3 They encouraged and supported this new production as part of their commitment to reinvigorate and promote Roman artistic traditions.

Court styles in Napoleonic France breathed new life into the production of cameos and intaglios at the beginning of the nineteenth century. As shown in portrait paintings, Empress Josephine Bonaparte and the princesses of the French imperial house set a new fashion trend by wearing splendid parures set with cameos and intaglios, in addition to those with sparkling faceted stones.4 According to French goldsmith and jewelry historian Eugène Fontenay, “Cameos were much in style during the first Empire, they wore them everywhere.”5 Unlike earlier work, however, cameos of the nineteenth century, which were intended almost exclusively for jewelry, were larger, more colorful, and often carved with subjects inspired by modern sculpture. The Castellani’s choice of engraved gems, in particular of large monochrome cameos, also responded to the demands for strong color to complement their gold settings, especially from the 1850s onward.

In the 1830s the creation of intaglios and cameos in hardstone was jeopardized by the increased production of carved seashells, which were cheaper and easier to manufacture.6 To the uneducated eye, shells could approximate the effect of hardstone cameos when set into rich parures. Nonetheless, at least until the mid-1850s, some of the most renowned Roman engravers, including successful medalists, remained active: Giuseppe Girometti, Giuseppe Cerbara, Nicola Morelli, Luigi Pichler in Rome; and Benedetto Pistrucci, with his heritage of Roman culture and tradition, in London. Augusto Castellani summarized the situation:

Since ancient intaglios were much sought after, at the beginning of this century not a few artists devoted themselves to falsifying them: and that was the occasion that a bit later there arose excellent Italian engravers, such as Calandrelli, Pistrucci, Girometti, Picker [sic] and many others. These, with their works, emulated the ancients and were artists whose names will live as long as the cameos which they carved. But now the tradition they founded is already in decline, and if the rich will not refrain from wanting hard[stone] cameos for miserable prices, we can foresee that soon this [art] will cease completely.7

This decline was exacerbated by the general economic crisis associated with ongoing political and military events. These culminated in the formation of the Kingdom of Italy (1861) and the proclamation of Rome as its capital (1870). During this time the Castellani, especially Fortunato Pio and Augusto, strove to maintain and improve the engravers’ art, with much success. Unsettled times in Italy recur toward the end of the century and are well documented in Augusto’s memoirs. Coupled with changes in fashion, they eventually forced the closing of the Castellani workshop by Augusto’s son, Alfredo.

Acquisitions and Trade of Intaglios and Cameos

The Castellani purchased a variety of worked stones—ancient ones from excavations, others made in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and modern ones almost continuously, beginning about 1829, at a time when there was less interest in this type of acquisition. There were peak moments when they purchased in quantity, such as in 1839 when they acquired “from Sig. Raffaele Patini two hundred carved stones set in gold.”8 They sometimes even seemed intent on raking in everything on the market. There are not only single purchases and small groups, but also entire collections of cameos and engraved stones, two of which are listed in the Castellani financial records for April 1859 (without provenance).9 After 1860 Alessandro frenetically acquired jewels and cameos, many of which he handed over to his brother Augusto for the shop, while others went back on the market.

There was also an element of competition to these purchases. Count Michael Tyskiewicz, a major figure in the European antiquarian market in the second half of the century, had settled in Rome in 1865. In his memoirs, published years later, in 1896, he wrote tellingly of the antiquities trade in Rome and Alessandro Castellani’s involvement in it, although his text must be taken with a grain of salt. He described his secret acquisition, through the dealer Francesco Martinetti, of the historic gem collection of the Boncompagni Ludovisi, princes of Piombino, noting the furtive circumstances and precautions he took to keep this from Alessandro. According to Tyskiewicz, “to the day of his death Castellani knew nothing about the sale of the collection of which I have been speaking, and I, on my part, took good care to say nothing about it, still less to show it to him, as I had made up my mind not to part with the gems.”10

Fortunato Pio acquired and sent batches of engraved stones to other jewelers and merchants in Italy and beyond; at times he ordered stones for resale to be made by carvers. Two such shipments are particularly significant; the first was in 1835. On April 14 Fortunato Pio corresponded with a “Mons. F. Bautte” in Florence, with whom he had had many business dealings. He wrote: “concerning cameos there are none with relief engraving. There is however a group of those engraved as intaglios, being worked on at this moment, and next Saturday I will dispatch the samples.”11 Four days later, on April 18, he confirmed: “I send 7 cameos in onyx in relief which cost 10 paoli a piece, and sixteen carved onyxes and they cost 80 baj[occhi] each. You will see that they are very well made. If you wish to have them in quantity you have only to command me and you will be served immediately.”12 Fortunato Pio’s orders to engravers were sometimes for stock items, not necessarily for specific commissions.

The second shipment occurred three years later, in 1838, when Fortunato Pio acquired an important group of cameos for Alfred Megassier of Paris. These were carefully packed in a chest and sent to France on the evening of October 27 “sur la corniche à Marseille” (on the coast road to Marseille), care of one Louis Bozoimer, together with other pieces already in Castellani’s possession.13 The shipment consisted of a considerable number of items. Many of them were by known engravers and were carefully listed with the names of the makers and an indication of the subject. These included pieces by the gem-carver Francesco Frediani: two sets composed of nine cameos each in hardstone, other cameos depicting the head of Jupiter, the figure of a faun, the head of Apollo, the bust of Lucius Verus, the head of Alexander, a “very large” head of Augustus, an “oversized” head of Hera, the head of Pindar, head of Ceres, head of Psyche, and head of Canova’s Perseus; another jewel set with twenty cameos and others depicting a Muse, a bacchante, Augustus crowned with rose laurel, the head of Diomedes, and the head of Marcus Agrippa.14 There were also cameos by Antonio Vergé depicting a bacchante, Night, Flora, and Jupiter.15 In addition there was “an envelope with ten cameos representing Apollo and the nine Muses by Pistrucci,” as well as four cameos “which are the property of the Castellani” (among them a cameo by Giovanni Pichler) and “24 separate cameos of seashell of various sizes acquired from Sig. Giovanni Dies.”16 Of these, two names stand out: Giovanni Pichler, the greatest engraver of the eighteenth century, and Benedetto Pistrucci, another well-known engraver.17 The other names are rather obscure: Dies furnished cameos to Castellani on at least three other occasions, and Vergé supplied Fortunato Pio with a portrait of the newly elected Pope Pius IX in 1847.18 Another important consignment, which included a remarkable number of coral cameos, was recorded in 1840 for a “Sig. Bonly Dini of Paris,” who then owed Castellani a considerable sum for two large groups of cameos and engraved stones.19

Ancient and Modern Scarabs

The use of ancient stones from excavations is an essential characteristic of Etruscan-revival jewels. Necklaces in particular were made with scarabs, mostly in carnelian (but also in onyx), many of which were of the “a globolo” type dating to the third to second centuries B.C., although there are also even older scarabs from the sixth century B.C.20 Scarabs were regularly acquired in great quantity on the antiquities market from quality merchants who also traded in engraved stones. ln 1842 Fortunato Pio purchased ancient scarabs from Pietro Mari; in 1847 he acquired forty from Francesco Depoletti for 40 scudi and twenty-two from Gregorio Diotallevi; in 1851 he bought eighty-seven from Giuseppe Baseggio, a “Roman merchant of proven reputation,” for 40 scudi.21 In 1855-56 the acquisitions were numerous and frequent (at least four between July and December of 1856), often consisting of many small groups. Single examples were especially abundant in 1858-59, years in which, interestingly, jewels with mosaic and scarabs clearly outnumbered those with cameos and engraved stones.22

After 1870, while the purchase of cameos remained steady, as did specific commissions to engravers, acquisitions of scarabs gradually declined. By this time they had become somewhat scarce on the market. Augusto commented in his Discorso (1862):

Ancient Etruscan, Greek, and Roman scarabs are at present very rare, and therefore their high price impelled the moderns to counterfeit them. And they so perfected this trade that the most experienced eye can barely discover the deception. It is not the stone, not the polishing, not the engraving, but a certain sweet and soft appearance which makes them recognizable as antiques; and then only by those who have studied such kinds of work for long years, and because of trade or some other reason, have seen and handled many of them.23

The production of modern scarabs required by Castellani, however, had not always been intended to deceive, but rather had been created to complete series of ancient scarabs purchased on the antiquities market and used in jewels such as necklaces and bracelets.24 For each of the celebrated parures, which constituted the pride of the Castellani production, a minimum of thirty scarabs was needed (twenty to twenty-five for the necklaces, up to fifteen for a bracelet, and others for rings, earrings, and pins).25 Examples include the necklace, fibula, and bracelet made in 1857 for “Madama Story,” or the “parure of Etruscan scarabs in carnelian composed of necklace, bracelet, earrings, and fibula” made in 1865.26 The firm thus required a reasonable stock of scarabs of every type and dimension, ready to be used as the occasion demanded. In one case, for example, the inventory for June 16, 1850, included, in addition to the scarabs already mounted as jewels: “35 modern scarabs, 32 antique carnelian scarabs, 23 scarabs in antique carnelian, 24 scarabs in antique carnelian, 52 mediocre scarabs, 4 large scarabs, 82 ordinary scarabs, 5 large ordinary scarabs, 15 large modern scarabs.”27

The use of scarabs in jewelry was not universally applauded. A conmentator on the International Exhibition of 1862 in London wrote in the Jewellers’, Goldsmiths, Silversmiths’, and Watchmakers’ Monthly Magazine:

[T]he jewellers did their best to rob the scarabaei of their repulsiveness; and if it cannot be said that the scarabs added to the beauty of the bracelets and rings in which they were set, it must be allowed by all who examine the reproductions of signor Castellani, that the Etruscan jewellers, by the magnificence of their settings, managed to make tolerable even the repulsive, ill-carved beetle stones, the material emblems of a groveling heathen mystery.28

After the great successes of the 1850s and 1860s, linked to the affair surrounding the Campana collection, the production of jewels with scarabs may not have been as rich and diverse, but even so it lasted for a long time, particularly as simple scarab pins and earrings. In October 1888, for example, Wilhelm II of Germany on a visit to Rome acquired “a bracelet with four Etruscan scarabs, and two hairpins with the head of Juno for the Empress.”29

Ancient and Renaissance Cameos and Intaglios

Because of their scarcity, ancient cameos and intaglios of very fine quality were not used as frequently as scarabs. The most prized examples, those with highly original and symbolic depictions, were used singly for brooches, pendants, rings, and buttons. Otherwise, the most readily available ancient stones were the many little intaglios in hardstone–carnelian, jasper, ameythst, crystal, nicola (a kind of onyx)—and glass pastes of the Roman period, found in great quantity in the sands of the Tiber. They were densely set in gold necklaces and bracelets including those of complex design to obtain a pleasing multicolor effect. The stones were combined without regard to their tiny representations, which were generally mythological and lent no specific meaning for the jewel as a whole. This was in contrast to the Castellani production of jewels with small, modern engraved gems imitating the ancient ones, for which the gem engraver used the same type of stone and followed a theme. Examples include garnets with tiny cupids and nicolos with figures of deities, which were used in two important necklaces, or a pair of bracelets set with intaglios with the signs of the zodiac carved in the appropriate birthstone for each sign.30

Castellani purchases of intaglios and cameos from excavations were registered over the years, and the age of the stone, when known, was always specified. This type of identification in the record books is rare, however, suggesting a certain difficulty in dating the artifact. As late as 1891 Augusto offered a client in Boston some carved carnelians for rings, sending casts in sealing wax, but, in spite of the experience which he had gained by then, he could not ascertain their antiquity.31 The same thing occurred for stones of later periods, especially cameos thought to be of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which seem to have been more prized than those from excavations. The 1850 inventory listed: “50 cameos of the XV century some of them very beautiful; 149 hardstone cameos of the XV century some of them very beautiful.” There was also “a parure of cameos XV century set in gold for duke Grazioli” as well as a “garniture of cameos of the XVI century set [with] enamels and jewels”.32 Although provenance is not indicated, it is likely that many of these were owned by the aristocracy who, as is well documented by the registers in the Castellani archive, brought family jewels to the Castellani shop to be repaired, altered, remounted, or even exchanged for other works (see chap. 3).

Modern Cameos and Intaglios by Roman Engravers

Modern Roman cameos and intaglios, however, rather than ancient ones, truly defined the Castellani production, at times more strongly than others. Augusto Castellani, especially in the second half of the century, encouraged and supported the production of carved gems. By means of ongoing commissions to the engravers, the Castellani were able to sideline the use of seashells, but production in shell was still much in demand in the years 1833-38 (as the numerous cameos listed in the registers attest).33 Jewels with cameos in turquoise, coral, “Naples lava,” “turquoise [glass] paste,” and malachite are also mentioned, but from about 1857-58 onward the references to modest cameos in shell are extremely rare.34 This was not the case with other gem carvers who used shell fairly routinely to produce quick portraits of foreign visitors whose numbers increased and came to include tourists from the United States. This production made the fortune of many engravers such as Tommaso and Luigi Saulini, and Paolo and Luigi Neri. Their studios were located in Via del Babuino, near the most prestigious hotels in Rome, along the main route from the north, by which travelers entered the city at Porta del Popolo.35 The Saulini became especially renowned for their portraiture, first in hardstone but later almost exclusively in shell.36 Although Castellani did not make extensive use of Saulini cameos, Alessandro is known to have visited the Saulini workshop in 1860. A shell portrait of Ellen Walters (née Harper), wife of William T. Walters, by one of the Saulini, was set by Castellani in a simple gold frame.37 Another piece, a “cameo taken from Saulini,” is registered in the Castellani daybook for 1856.38 The Saulini may also have carved some of the “cameos in seashell” after the celebrated marble reliefs, Day and Night, by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, and after Raphael’s Madonna of the Chair, all of which occasionally appear in the registers.39

The Castellani gave special commissions to other gem carvers. Some of these were well known and successful on their own; others are obscure, their names lost in time. Their payments are listed with the payments “to the pietraro,” an artisan who prepared the stone for the engraver.40 The generic phrase “to the engraver,” whose name is rarely given, raises the possibility that at least in some cases the maker may have been a worker employed by the Castellani as a metal engraver. “Engraver” could indicate someone who cut the initials and coats of arms on silverware and carved designs into stamping tools or seals. These could be in metal (for which the well-known name of the Pasinati often recurred) or hardstone, as in the special case of gem carver Antonio Odelli (see below).41 The hints that emerge from the Castellani registers, while brief, are also precious for evaluating the economic worth of the individual engravers who seem to have been paid, at least in some periods, on a weekly basis, as was Giorgio Antonio Girardet.42 It is not yet clear if some of them actually worked directly in the Castellani shop. Names of engravers do not appear in the registers of workers (or at least they have not yet been identified), but in February 1859 expenses for a “bench for engraving” were recorded.43 Some, however, such as Odelli and the Sirletti brothers (Giovanni, Pietro, and Gaetano), had their own studios in the immediate vicinity of the Castellani premises in Via Poli and Piazza di Trevi.

The works expressly commissioned by the Castellani are identifiable by the double C engraved on the background of the obverse or on the reverse of the stone. It is not clear if this had always been required or if they began to cut a maker’s mark at a specific time. The conditions agreed upon for a commission are similarly unclear; for example, who furnished the stone? The Castellani mark appears on a variety of cameos and intaglios: cameos in the Twelve Caesars series used for bracelets; a sapphire cameo with the head of Medusa; an intaglio in agate with the depiction of an actor mounted in an Etruscan-style ring; a cameo with a horseman in battle, copied from a stone in the famous Marlborough collection; cameos in three-layer sardonyx, one with the bust of Constantine and another with the bust of an empress, in identical gold mounts as brooches (perhaps executed as a pair); a cameo in chalcedony with a full-face, laurel crowned bust of Julius Caesar; an intaglio on chalcedony with a profile possibly of Emperor Augustus; and the twenty-five little nicolos with figures of deities for a necklace and pair of earrings.44

Two notable cameos in sapphire also display the Castellani mark. The first depicts a frontal seated female figure, once interpreted as Cybele, but now possibly identified as a personification of Italy, which appears several times in the registers as “sapphire Italia.”45 The second cameo, showing a figure of Charity and mounted in a very simple gold brooch, is the work of Giorgio Antonio Girardet. A replica of this is also documented, slightly different in dimensions and form, marked by the usual double C as well as the full signature of the engraver.46 This unusual double identification is known only for a few works by Girardet. He also signed a cameo in two layers of sardonyx with Venus and Cupid mounted in a gold pin with small cabochon sapphires and cameos showing Jupiter and Medusa.47

Compared with the number of stones that passed through the Castellani workshop and the number of engravers active in Rome in the nineteenth century (in some periods at least eighty), very few of them are actually documented by signatures on the stones or by records in the Castellani registers.48 Those linked with certainty to Castellani jewels may be divided roughly into two groups. In the first are known engravers who worked entirely or partly before the time of the Castellani’s concentrated effort to promote carved stones in their work. Castellani may not necessarily have commissioned specific work from these carvers, but rather acquired gems by them over the years for the prestige of the creators. The second group consisted of those contemporary carvers, many of them still anonymous or little known, whose work may not always have been of the highest quality but who were nonetheless specifically commissioned by Castellani.

The earlier group includes very few of the great carvers of the eighteenth century, and references to them in the registers are scarce. “The famous Giovanni Pichler,” for instance, is recorded only once, in 1839, for a cameo with the head of Julius Caesar.49 Antonio Pazzaglia signed a large cameo in agate with Mars and Venus which was among the jewels that came to Villa Giulia.50 Another eighteenth-century engraver, the little known Bartolomeo Garavini, is also listed.51 Still others in this first group were members of the prestigious Accademia di San Luca, including Nicola Morelli, who was admitted together with Giuseppe Cerbara and Giuseppe Girometti in 1812, Luigi Pichler, and Benedetto Pistrucci. Morelli was famous for his elegant cameos with portraits of members of the Bonaparte family.52 He is represented by a cameo with Hebe mounted in gold with griffins and one with Napoleon mounted as a pin in a frame with laurel leaves.53

Engraver Antonio Berini left Rome and successfully relocated in Milan in the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Castellani register for 1860 records a cameo by him with Hercules, mounted with thirty-six diamond brilliants.54 Berini also signed an agate cameo with a bust of Apollo, derived from the famous statue in the Belvedere Court of the Vatican.55 Another piece, a rock crystal carved with the sea-born Venus, is also signed and is typical of this kind of work. It was expertly mounted by Castellani in a relatively simple pin that perfectly complements the stone. Enamel in black and white has been combined with gold and a closed mount containing a special black background to illuminate the image.56

Giovanni Pichler’s younger half-brother, Luigi, was one of the most talented engravers, much admired by rulers and popes. He is suggested as the “Pickler” who is credited (without a first name) with several intaglios in the Castellani registers: a topaz mounted in a ring, a large carnelian with three heads mounted in a bracelet, an onyx engraved with a depiction of a vase, an emerald mounted as a pin, and a rock crystal with a head of Medusa, which was mentioned in the 1883 register.57 The Medusa rock crystal is probably the intaglio with a slightly convex surface enclosed in a pin with a gold mounting of scrolls and with a tear-shaped amethyst pendant, now at Villa Giulia. Pichler had a preference for intaglio work, and this Medusa is among his finest. He also carved portraits of contemporaries and subjects derived from classical mythology.58 His international renown led to his appointment by Count Metternich in 1818 to teach at the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts, which he did until 1850.

A cameo with Flora by Angelo Antonio Amastini appears in the Castellani inventory of 1865, and another with the same subject is listed as “Fibula cameo Flora” in the years 1894, 1896, 1897, and 1901-5; there is also a cameo with Arethusa mounted in a brooch listed in 1904-5.59 The name “Mastini” (without a first name) also appears in the registers, but may indicate another engraver not yet identified with certainty and perhaps active at a later period.60 He is credited with several cameos–one for a “portable altar,” others with stork and snake, and with Napoleon I.61

Works of two of the greatest engravers in hardstone and finest medalists of the first half of the nineteenth century – Benedetto Pistrucci and Giuseppe Girometti – are represented in the Castellani production. Pistrucci, who moved permanently to London in 1815 where he was appointed chief medalist at the Royal Mint in 1828, engraved a cameo with Leda and the swan mounted in a simple pin and the series of ten cameos depicting Apollo and the nine Muses, which were in the large shipment previously mentioned, sent by Fortunato Pio to Megassier in France in 1838.62

Girometti is more evident in the Castellani production, his presence almost taken for granted, since he was the most prominent engraver in Rome and had been honored with a funerary monument in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo.63 He and Giuseppe Cerbara were jointly appointed Engraver of the Pontifical Mint in 1822. Only his portrait cameo of George Washington is today firmly documented in a signed Castellani jewel,64 but his name appears several times in the registers in connection with other works. Cameos by Girometti were mounted with surrounds of brilliants, a cameo with Cupid was inserted in a bulla or pendant (1882), a “cameo jewel Girometti” with brilliants and little balls or drops appears in the inventories for 1883-85, and a brooch with “Amore” from 1889 until 1904.65 Giuseppe Cerbara is also found in a document in the Castellani archive: “Gold Bulla, set with a topaz intaglio representing the Roman Medusa: the intaglio is by signor Cerbara of Rome. In the possession of count Tieskiewitz [sic].”66

The Castellani both commissioned work and bought readymade pieces from a variety of contemporary gem carvers, not just from the top ranks, including Antonio Odelli, Giorgio Antonio Girardet, Giovanni Dies and also the brothers Giovanni, Pietro, and Gaetano Sirletti, Antonio Vergé, Francesco Frediani, Stefano and Vincenzo Teoli, and Pietro and Gregorio De Santis. 67 Even today most of these engravers are practically unknown, but they gain greater visibility from a review of documents in the Castellani archives. For example, on May 17, 1847, an otherwise unknown Luigi Bochioli signed a receipt for payment, for a double-sided cameo in blood-colored jasper. 68 In this case nothing more has been found as yet in the archives, but in other cases a great deal more comes to light.

Antonio Odelli’s name recurs with greatest frequency in the Castellani documents. He was one of the few engravers active in Rome in 1841 to be included in Hawks Le Grice’s guide to the city’s sculpture workshops published that year.69 His studio moved several times, but by 1856 it was located in Via Rasella close to the early Castellani shop in Via Poli (opened in 1854) and the firm’s later showrooms at Piazza di Trevi (opened in 1869).70

The archives reveal a close, longtime relationship between Odelli and the Castellani-first with Fortunato Pio, later with Augusto-enduring almost forty years. Beginning in the 1830s Odelli was paid for engraving coats of arms and monograms both on hardstone and metal.71 A “seal with a hardstone handle garnished with gold” with a coat of arms engraved by Odelli is among the objects that appear in the lawsuit Prince Filippo Andrea Doria Pamphilj filed against Fortunato Pio, in which he contested the high cost of the jewels prepared for the prince’s wedding to Mary Altea Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, in 1839.72

Odelli is also the creator of many works in hardstone that remain difficult to identify because his signature is rarely found on known pieces to date.73 In 1834 and 1835 he was commissioned by Fortunato Pio to create two cameos in “black stone” with a tortoise for Onorato Martucci of Naples. At the same time, as a trusted engraver he was consulted about the execution and asked for an estimate for engraving in agate a small statue about 8½ inches (22 cm) high for the same client.74 Owing to the difficulty of the work for which the client wanted to pay very little, Castellani gave the commission to the Roman engraver Gregorio De Santis, then living in Florence, who had already made “twelve small busts representing the portraits of the twelve Caesars” for Castellani. But when De Santis’s cost estimate was also considered excessive, the execution of the work was suspended.75

Augusto Castellani singled out Odelli for praise, noting the high quality of his work. He had hired Odelli to copy an antique cameo in sapphire with the bust of Roman Emperor Vespasian that, according to him, was discovered on the Via Appia. He wrote: “I had it copied on a blue quartz by the outstanding Odelli, a skillful Roman cutter, whose work it seemed to me turned out excellently, but the artist assured me that quartz cut badly because the substance lacked homogeneity. I had the same man cut two large blue corundums [sapphires], and on those the work came out stupendously finished, because it resisted the tool better.”76

Two of Odelli’s creations can be identified with some certainty as a cordierite cameo with Vespasian and a light blue chalcedony cameo, which was illustrated in the 1930 catalogue of items sold in Rome from the estate of Alfredo Castellani; both also relate to some notes in the registers from 1889.77 The sapphire, once thought to be the actual excavated stone mentioned by Augusto, is more likely to have been copied from a chalcedony cameo of the same subject in Florence in the grandducal collection.78 This image had been widely circulated via printed engravings and impressions and was already well known to hardstone engravers in the eighteenth century.79 The other cameo design probably derived from the same source.

Other work by Odelli listed in the Castellani registers includes: an intaglio with the head of Mars for a seal “for Sig. Rothschild” (1846), a “sacred cameo” mounted in a brooch (1864), a cameo with Hercules in an armband (1864), and an unidentified piece acquired in 1858 by Prince Lautberg.80 Among the extant pieces by Odelli there is a cameo with a bust of Flora in emerald mounted in an enameled gold pin with griffins and an emerald drop, and very likely a brooch with a cameo depiction of the rape of Persephone which is in the 1904 inventory and was probably the one sold at auction in Rome in 1930.81

Giorgio Antonio Girardet also appears several times in the Castellani registers. His work was characteristic of the new direction Augusto took with this type of production in the second half of the century. Girardet’s relationship with the Castellani workshop must have begun through Odelli, for whom Girardet had initially worked.82 Girardet sometimes worked on commission but also received a weekly payment from Castellani. He marked his works with the double C, sometimes also signing them with his name. This arrangement suggests a privileged relationship with the firm. Although his name does not appear in the registers in relation to objects, but only to payments, he was certainly responsible for a sapphire intaglio commemorating the 1887 battle of Dogali, and cameos with Charity, Jupiter, and Venus and Cupid. The bust of Queen Margherita in sardonyx, which is attached to one of the famous aluminum letter openers made by Castellani, was probably by Girardet.83 It is the same design as an exquisite bust in the round that he sculpted in lapis lazuli, which was greatly admired by his contemporaries and was purchased by the queen herself as a gift to her mother, the Duchess of Genoa.84

At the end of the century, changes in taste and style led to a decline of the Castellani workshop. This adversely affected Girardet, and in 1892 he left Rome for Rio de Janeiro, where his son Augusto, who had abandoned gem carving, became a successful medalist.85 His other son, Enrico, also a gem carver, stayed in Rome and maintained his relationship with the Castellani studio, receiving payments for some stones in 1893 and 1895.86

Stones and Subject Matter

By commissioning work directly from the engravers, Augusto and later his son Alfredo maintained control over the choice of stone and subject, rather than just accepting what the market bad to offer. The Castellani stock of cameos (intaglios were rarer) was carved in stones that they themselves had selected for quality and color or for other unusual qualities, as in the rich, new imports from South America. During the last period of the Castellani production semitransparent, essentially monochromatic stones (sapphire, emerald, and topaz, but also chalcedony and amethyst), almost completely replaced the “multicolored” sardonyxes, onyxes, and oriental agates that characterized the production of Pistrucci, Girometti, and other gem carvers. The importance the Castellani attached to color and quality of stones is illustrated by Augusto’s comments on individual minerals.87 In one case, when Princess Basiantini sent him four uncut sapphires, he refused to have them engraved, because the stones were “extremely pale and the work would make no effect.”88 The method of acquisition, the origin of the stones, and the costs associated with them comprise a topic worth further study.

The subjects of the cameos and intaglios chosen by the Castellani to be mounted in their goldsmiths’ creations belong with few exceptions to the repertoire generally adopted by nineteenth-century gem carvers. They continued to use eighteenth-century sources, primarily engravings of mythological subjects, ancient monuments, and portraits of illustrious men of the past and portraits of contemporary figures, all of which bad been much in demand by visitors on the Grand Tour. New nineteenth-century sources included works of the great “modern” sculptors, especially Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen, and others who worked in their style, including John Gibson, Emil Wolff, Raimondo Trentanove, and Luigi Bienaimé.89 The subjects came primarily from mythology and the ancient world, with a preference for Jupiter, Venus, Bacchus and the bacchantes, Flora, and Medusa, for theatrical masks, and for such popular images as the Cupid Seller, after a painting by Joseph-Marie Vien from 1763, to name a few.

The participation of the Castellani, Augusto in particular, in the political and cultural life of Rome also influenced the shop’s production of cameos. In the years after the unification of Italy, tricolor brooches, “Stars of Italy,” and sapphire cameos representing Italy were made. One cameo, known as “Seated Rome,” could be the sapphire previously identified as Cybele at the center of a sparkling mount in gold and brilliants. The design is of Renaissance derivation and corresponds to the summary description in the register (including the number of diamonds employed) and to a design sketch dated 1898.90 Another piece with a political subject is more unusual, perhaps unique in the repertory. This sapphire intaglio brooch depicts the massacre at Dogali in Africa, at which five hundred Italian soldiers were killed. It was engraved by Girardet between 1887 and 1888, immediately after the tragedy occurred, and represents an anomaly, not only within the Castellani production, but also among that of the engraver.91 Its grim subject matter undoubtedly accounts for the jewel remaining in the shop for many years before passing into private bands, if only for a brief time, before arriving in a public museum in 1917.92 By then its original significance had largely faded from public consciousness.

Other cameos represented personages of the past who could be linked with political and cultural events, such as the celebrations for the sixth centenary of the birth of Dante in 1865. Dante was also closely linked with the Risorgimento, however, and a micromosaic portrait had been offered in the preceding years and in hardstones until the end of the century.93 The portraits of Illustrious Men of Italy, such as Petrarch, Michelangelo, Tasso, Ariosto, and Boccaccio, appear in cameos or metal, to be used in series for bracelets, or individually for brooches, rings, and buttons.94 Prototypes of the portraits were codified by the splendid productions of Giovanni Antonio Santarelli, Giuseppe Girometti, and Giuseppe Cerbara for the collection of the duke of Blacas.95 Castellani also commissioned cameos with portraits of those who personified liberal ideals such as Friedrich Schiller (in a rigid bracelet) and George Washington.96 Another symbol of freedom and the struggle to achieve it was the biblical David. The head of David, derived from Bernini’s well-known statue, appears as a chalcedony cameo mounted in a brooch.97

The Twelve Caesars series depicting Roman emperors, mounted in bracelets, was probably created in the celebratory climate of the century. The great political and military figures of ancient Roman history appeared frequently, especially Julius Caesar and Augustus, together and separately, and Horatio at the Bridge. There is even a record of a brooch mounted with three portraits of Julius Caesar and two of Alexander.98

Other cameos had portraits of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century personalities, such as Frederick the Great of Prussia, Voltaire, Maria Theresa of Austria, and Napoleon I and his family.99 Some of these were the work of such excellent gem carvers as Amastini and Nicola Morelli, a specialist in portraits of the French imperial family. These were certainly acquired by the Castellani for their illustrious signatures.

Religious subjects formed another category. Cameos with the portrait of Pope Pius IX were produced in great numbers immediately after his election in June 1846. In January 1847 Castellani offered a “snuffbox with a cameo portrait of the Pope” mounted in brilliants, and in February the engraver Antonio Vergé signed a receipt for “a portrait of the Supreme Pontif Pius IX.”100 Before 1854 portraits of this pope, both in hardstone or shell, and in various dimensions, were mounted in an assort1nent of brooches, from simple and inexpensive ones to the most costly. The 1850 inventory lists four examples of a “pin with a cameo of Pius IX with letters in enamel” and “four small portraits of Pius IX; Fibula Pius IX hardstone cameo.”101 Other cameos depicted Pius VII, as a representative of the popes of the past.102 Images of Christ and the Virgin, as well as such holy figures as Saint Catherine of Siena, were engrave cl in hardstone to mount in jewels that had a clear Christian meaning (like the Chi-Rho brooches).103 In some examples a single cameo carried two images. There were also many generic “Sacred Cameos.”104


The earliest cameos and intaglios were mounted by Castellani according to traditional models, such as simply surrounding them with brilliants. Later, they were inserted into many unusual and original settings, some inspired by the ancient world and others, of increasing complexity and sumptuousness, uniting elements from diverse stylistic periods. For example, a jewel of the fifteenth century could be reinterpreted by adding motifs from other sources.105 It was not necessary for the mount to correspond in period or style to that of the engraving on the stone. There were sometimes enormous discrepancies between cameos of pure classical tradition and their mounts, which were combined into particularly complicated jewels.

The mount could be designed as a function of the stone, as in the case of portraits of historical figures such as Washington and Napoleon. These cameos were framed in simple gold, composed of arches, ribbons, and leaves so as not to distract, but rather to focus the attention on the image. In another simple treatment, the frame was enriched by enamels or small unfaceted colored stones. Other settings emphasized the artistic and technical skill of the engraver and the quality of the image, as in some particularly important stones signed by great artists: the sea-born Venus by Antonio Berini, for example, or the Medusa by Luigi Pichler. The refined mounts for these great intaglios in rock crystal emphasize the transparency of the stone. The color is only heightened by the gold, clark enamels, or other colored stones; the design is never gaudy-the stone being the most important element of the jewel. At other times, as in the most elaborate necklaces, the stones are of the same importance as the setting or complement it with a purely coloristic effect. The actual carving, however, may not always be of the highest quality.

Excellent cameos were embedded at the center of rich, elaborate settings, of sixteenth-century or baroque inspiration, in which caryatids and griffins are found, and many multicolored stones, enamels, and pearls were used. The subject matter of the sapphire intaglio with the Massacre of Dogali seems almost inappropriate for an object of adornment, a splendid Renaissance-style jewel, but the choice of such a mount may have been a way to commemorate the heroism of an event that was a national tragedy and had deeply moved Augusto Castellani.106 Sapphires were often mounted in gold with brilliants, as pendants, and with other stones of the same color. Emeralds and green stones were also often used in the 188os and 1890s, as is documented by a type of necklace replicated several times, in which black enamel and pearls are used with the gold to emphasize the color of the emerald.107 Along with cameos and intaglios of large dimensions, many smaller stones of varying quality were used for every type of jewel. Small intaglios were frequently employed for necklaces, earrings, tie-pins, bracelets, and buttons, whose mounts- even the most modest ones-are signed with the Castellani mark.

Clients for Cameo Jewels

Among the prestigious Castellani clientele, there were undoubtedly many who appreciated jewels adorned with cameos and intaglios. Their names are certain to be found in the archival material, but this research, although enticing, goes beyond the scope of the present essay. lnstead, a single example will stand for all. Members of the royal house of Savoy, who were among the earliest and most celebrated Italian clients of Castellani, showed a special affinity for cameos and intaglios.

As early as 1839 Fortunato Pio mounted “two cameos for a brooch in gold” and “another cameo in gold” for “Her Majesty the Queen of Sardinia,” Maria Theresa of Tuscany, wife of King Carl Albert.108 Later, Umberto, crown prince of Piedmont, and his wife Margherita, who signed the visitors’ book in 1871, frequently commissioned the Castellani to produce objects to serve as official state gifts. Jewels with carved stones, such as brooches with cameos in amethyst and cat’s-eye, figure among their choices (1875, 1876).109 After 1878, the year in which they became sovereigns of Italy following the death of Victor Emmanuel II, their purchasing increased, especially on special anniversaries and to mark official visits to Rome by princes and emperors. They also bought jewels for their personal use. Beginning in the 1880s they focused on brooches with cameos in sapphire, topaz, emerald, and hyacinthe inserted in especially precious mounts sparkling with brilliants.110 For the tiny bust of Queen Margherita, Castellani had Giorgio Antonio Girardet carve the queen’s portrait in miniature in lapis lazuli and sardonyx. The extremely refined carving depicts the queen wearing her celebrated pearls and an archaeological- style tiara in the form of oak leaves. It is similar to that of gold leaves that was part of the group of jewels created by Castellani and presented to the queen by the city of Rome as a wedding gift in 1868.111 The quality of decoration and technique, and the stature and range of patronage for cameos and intaglios, make this one of the most compelling areas of Castellani jewelry.

© Bard Graduate Center, Lucia Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli.