Cameo with a Portrait Bust of Charlemagne


This small cameo is engraved with a portrait bust of Charlemagne, from his right side, with the inscription “Carolus Magnus” (Charles the Great). The long-haired emperor, with his imposing beard, is wearing a crown with a fleur-de-lis and Renaissance-inspired armor with arabesque motifs. This cameo is part of a collection of 63 portraits of the kings of France, from legendary King Pharamond to Louis XIII. The cameo is from one of two series of portraits of kings of France on shell that were made in the 17th century, one under the reign of Henry IV and the other under the reign of Louis XIII. They are now preserved in the Museum of Coins, Medals, and Antiques at the National Library of France. Both are highly valued, more for their pedagogical value than for their actual beauty. The portraits are engraved in relief (embossed design) on soft shell, which appears white in the thicker areas and translucent where it is thinner. They are covered with a black tar-like paste, which imparts blue hues to the background of the cameo, making it look like onyx. While the portraits of the later kings copy contemporary medals, the portraits of their ancestors, both mythical and real, are mostly inspired by engravings.

Last updated: April 23, 2015