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Carving of cameos

Dea bendata

#Blindfolded Goddess

Cameos are jewels created by careful carving of a stone or a shell, in particular the shells of the Cassis family "Cypraecassis rufa", "Cassis madascarensis" and "Cassis cornuta" as they have a surface consisting of two distinct layers of colour that can be clearly isolated from the relief of the bottom of the figure. These jewels are popular in Asia and in particular they are very fashionable in Japan.

Still today the carving of cameos is carried out by hand. The first phase in the working of cameos is choosing the shell best suited to the design. Next, the most convex part of the shell, called the "coppa", is cut and shaped, then further incisions are made to shape the cut piece, then inside the "coppa" contours of the cameos are traced so that parts that are wanted are preserved and the superfluous parts are eliminated.

Finally, the piece is honed into a more refined oval shape, cleaning away any sharp edges with a special grinding tool. Up to this point the cameos that are being worked are fixed on a piece of wood by a warm putty of tar, wax and plaster. The next stage is to remove the external part of the shell from the putty in such a way as to leave the surface layer clear to work upon. Next the main incisions are made on the surface of the cameo to create the design subject.

Then begins the carving of parts in relief, working gradually down deeper into the shell. Traditionally the cameos were created exclusively by hand, but today with the aid of electric motors the job has become relatively less laborious. However a good cameo does not have to be made exclusively with motors, as refining the delicate details and shapes can be more precisely done with hand tools.