A Carved Helmet Shell

Naples | c. 1850

The Carved Shell: 4 1⁄2” (11.5 cm) High; 4 3⁄4” Wide; 5 1⁄4” (13 cm) Deep
The Uncarved Shell: 5 1⁄4” (13 cm) High; 6 1⁄2” (16.5 cm) Wide; 6 3⁄4” (17 cm) Deep

A helmet shell carved with a classical scene of a painter assessing five female nudes, framed by a scrolling, foliate border. Together with a second uncarved helmet shell.

This type of carving has its origins in the carved gemstones of ancient Greece and Rome. Skilled craftsmen would cut away layers of the gemstones, using the natural variations in the stone to create multicoloured reliefs known as cameos. This practise was revived in Renaissance Italy, and also applied to other materials such as shell and glass. In the 19th century carved shells became a popular souvenir from the Grand Tour, with Naples the main centre of the industry.

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