Ptolemaic Cameo

unknown278 BC - 269 BC

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Vienna, Austria

The large, magnificent cameos of classical antiquity are small artworks, often of the highest artistic quality. They are fascinating not only because of the technical virtuosity and precious materials involved, but also because of their subjectmatter, which is a testimony not only to the political and cultural history of the time but also to the prevailing religious beliefs. Show-piece of imperial treasure chambers, cameos served as a display of wealth and power and were a means of glorifying the ruler and his family. While gems are produced by carving a design into a stone (they were frequently used as seals), cameos have relief decoration. The stone is usually cut in such a way that the relief figures are in the lighter layer of stone, while the darker layer provides the background. The “Ptolemaic Cameo” depicting the king and queen of Egypt was cut from the ten alternately dark-brown and bluish-white layers of stone. Ptolemy II Philadelphus is in the foreground wearing an Attic helmet, the cheek-guards of which are decorated with a thunderbolt, the attribute of Zeus. On the dome of the helmet is a snake, the Greek version of the uraeus serpent (sacred asp) on the military helmets of the pharaohs. The head of the Egyptian god Ammon can be seen on the neck-guard of the helmet. Ptolemy’s sister and wife, Arsinoë II, is in the background, wearing a bonnet-like crown with a veil thrown over it. The cameo was created in the time between the wedding of the couple in the year 278 BC and the death of Arsinoë in 270/69 BC. It was possibly commissioned as an official wedding gift. © Kurt Gschwantler, Alfred Bernhard-Walcher, Manuela Laubenberger, Georg Plattner, Karoline Zhuber-Okrog, Masterpieces in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2011


  • Title: Ptolemaic Cameo
  • Creator: unknown
  • Creator Death Place: unknown
  • Creator Birth Place: unknown
  • Date Created: 278 BC - 269 BC
  • Style: Hellenistic
  • Setting: gold rim, 4th quarter of the 16th century
  • Provenance: Because of a description by the theologian and naturalist Albertus Magnus, the present cameo is known to have been in the Reliquary of the Three Kings in Cologne around the middle of the 13th century. At that time the heads ofthe ruler, his consort and Ammon were interpreted as being a portrayal of the Three Wise Men from the East. In 1574 the precious stone was stolen. It reappeared in 1586 in Rome and was acquired by Vincenzo Gonzaga for his Mantua collection in 1587. The “Ptolemaic Cameo” was first documented in Vienna in the years 1668/69.
  • Physical Dimensions: w113 x h115 cm (entire)
  • Inventory Number: ANSA IXa 81
  • Type: glyptics
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/collection-of-greek-and-roman-antiquities
  • Medium: Ten-layered onyx

Additional Items

Ptolemaic Cameo (Supplemental)

Ptolemaic Cameo (Supplemental)

Ptolemaic Cameo (Supplemental)

Ptolemaic Cameo (Supplemental)

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