Cameo. A type of sculpted or carved gemstone in which the background is removed to highlight the subject. Cameos are often obtained from stones on which the coloration is banded, resulting in a figure of one color and a background of another. The term cameo, when used without qualification, is generally reserved for cuts of a gem mineral, although they are also known as stone cameos. The cameo that is commonly cut into a shell is appropriately called a shell cameo.

Most of the cameos are obtained from onyx or agate , but many other varieties of chalcedony are also used , such as tiger’s eye, sanguinite, sardine and carniola, as well as amethyst ; Other materials include beryl , malachite , hematite , labradorite, and adulary.


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  • 1 Meaning
  • 2 History
  • 3 Etymology
  • 4 Sources
  • 5 external links


The art of producing cameos and other similar objects such as notches is called glyptics (from the Greek glypho, engraving) and is a special form of sculpture art . Glyptic productions have been used since the earliest times in history to make seals, ornaments and pious objects or objects of superstition.


Formerly they were highly appreciated by the public, proof of this are the many specimens carved in precious and hard stones that are preserved from the Greco-Roman and Persian culture. The most recent carvings are made from seashells. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries mother of pearl was worked in France , Germany, and Flanders, a period when objects made from such material had great prestige in the French courts. The trips of discoveries made during this time, led to the entry of exotic raw materials into Europe such as; narwhal fangs, amber, jade, giant turtle shells and strange seashells. These articles sparked interest in natural history and stimulated the imagination of jewelers, artisans, and engravers. In the 16th century it was discovered that the shells of cyprids and casids were particularly suitable for carving cameos. In the eighteenth centuryDuring the neoclassical period, interest in the ancient arts was revived, which led to the flourishing of shell carving, despite the contempt they had for being considered imitation as they were made from an inferior material. From then on, the artisan centers disappeared until they remained only in two cities: Idar-Oberstein (specialized in the mechanical carving of agates) in Germany and Torre del Greco in Italy where they are handcrafted.


Originally, the word cameo only referred to a figure carved out of relief in a precious stone. He then went on to include an important figure who appears in a movie. This word comes to us from the French cameieu. The origin of this French term is uncertain. Some claim that it comes from a Latin ethym * chamaephaeus that supposedly comes from the Greek χαμαί (chamae = “on the ground, on the ground”, see: chameleon) and φαιός (phaeus = “gray, dark”). Joan Corominas’ Brief Dictionary says that it could come from the Germanic kimma helzas (precious piece of the sword hilt). No one has yet suggested that this word comes from bed and ugly, because these famous movie extras look ugly in bed.


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