Two pairs of symmetrical busts sprout from two cornucopias: on the left theemperor Claudius (10 BC – 54 AD) and his fourth wife, Agrippina the Younger(15/16 – 59 AD). Across from them stand the busts of the parents of the bride: the brother of the emperor, Germanicus (15 BC – 19 AD), and his wife, Agrippina the Elder (14 BC – 33 AD). Claudius married for the fourth time in 49 AD. There were great expectations of Agrippina the Younger, who on the cameo is portrayed as Cybele, the goddess of fertility, and hopes that following the assassination of her predecessor, Messalina, things would take a turn for the better. Possibly this stone was an official wedding gift to the imperial couple. At this time no one suspected that the domineering, scheming character of the woman, her elevation to the rank of Augusta and the adoption of her son Nero would have disastrous consequences for the emperor and state. By marrying the great-granddaughter of Augustus, Claudius strengthened the connection between the Julian and Claudian families. The cornucopias are a sign that this marriage was to bring a fullness of blessings; the eagle of Jupiter and the weapons are symbols of the triumphant nature of the emperor and general. This is the virtuoso work of an unknown master who carved the image out offive alternating layers of dark and light stone. The final polishing reduced the base layer to as little as 2mm in some places, an unparalleled thinness that created greater translucence in the material. © 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


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