Cameo gem set into a mount

Gem Unknown, Mount by Alessandro Castellanigem 2nd - 3rd century; mount 19th century

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum

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.

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  • Title: Cameo gem set into a mount
  • Creator: Gem Unknown, Mount by Alessandro Castellani
  • Date: gem 2nd - 3rd century; mount 19th century
  • Location Created: Roman Empire
  • Physical Dimensions: 3 x 2.8 cm (1 3/16 x 1 1/8 in.)
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Gem: sardonyx; Mount: gold
  • Source Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California
  • Object Type: Gem
  • Object Status: Permanent Collection
  • Number: 2001.28.12
  • Display Location: Currently on view at: Getty Villa, Gallery 109, Mythological Heroes
  • Department: Antiquities
  • Culture: Roman
  • Classification: Jewelry