The Adoration of the Magi
XQGCH 1991 181
XQG 2002 147
G&J 2008 210
XQG 1990 181
The scene, deeply undercut, depicts the Adoration of the Magi. To the left, under a thatched stable roof, sits the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child on her lap; Joseph stands behind her. The Magi advance in procession from the right with the star above to the centre left. They are accompanied by three pages, a camel and a horse.
Technically this cameo is a masterpiece of virtuoso carving. The layers of the stone have been exploited with the greatest care: the head of one of the Magi is cut in the dark layer, whereas the star above is yellowish white and almost free-standing. A sense of space and perspective has been created as the camel’s head and neck - which are light coloured - fade into the darker layer, behind the group of pages. The procession of the figures, their animation and the different colours used for the coats of the Magi all give a sense of movement. The horizontal drill hole through the back of the cameo is possibly evidence of the reuse of an earlier stone.
A North Italian, 16th century origin is suggested although the cutter of this outstanding gem remains unknown. The names of Matteo dal Nassaro or Dominicus Romanus have been tentatively suggested.
The cameo appears to have been in the collection of Queen Caroline, consort of George II. It was first recorded in a posthumous inventory of her curiosities and medals, compiled before 1755, as ‘An Onex of the Adoration of the Kings’ in the ‘Cabinet of His Majesty’s Library’ at Kensington Palace.
Text adapted from Ancient and Modern Gems and Jewels in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, London, 2008