Great Cameo of France
The Great Cameo of France (French - Grand Camée de France) is a five-layered sardonyx cameo of c. 23 AD. It is 31 cm by 26.5 cm. It appears to have come to France from the treasury of the Byzantine Empire, and is first attested in the first inventory of the treasure of Sainte Chapelle before 1279. It was then known as the Triumph of Joseph at the Court of the Pharaoh. It entered the Cabinet des médailles on the order of Louis XVI on 1 May 1791 (inventory number Babelon 264). Stolen during the French Revolution, it was recovered in Amsterdam but without its original gold frame, which was replaced by a bronze one that in turn was lost until 1912. It now resides in Paris at the Bibliotheque Nationale.
It is the largest ancient cameo which has survived. It is engraved in twenty-four layers, divided up into three levels. The general meaning and propagandistic intent of the work are clear - to assert the continuity and dynastic legitimacy of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. In the upper level are its dead members - Augustus, surrounded by Drusus II and Germanicus flying on Pegasus. In the middle level are the living ones - the emperor Tiberius in the centre, accompanied by his mother Livia and by Nero Drusus (Tiberius's designated heir) standing by him on one side and Drusus III and Caligula on the other. In the lowest level are captive barbarians.
- Babelon, Ernest. Catalogue des Camées antiques et modernes de la Bibliothèque Nationale. Paris : E. Leroux, 1897, n° 264.
- Bibliothèque nationale de France. Trésors de la Bibliothèque nationale de France, I : Mémoires et merveilles. Paris : BNF, 1996, n° 25.
- Giard, Jean-Baptiste. Le grand camée de France, Paris, 1998
- Giuliani, Luca and Gerhard Schmidt, Ein Geschenk für den Kaiser. Das Geheimnis des großen Kameo, Verlag C.H.Beck, Munich 2010.
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- Exp. 1789, Le Patrimoine libéré : 200 trésors entrés à la Bibliothèque nationale de 1789 à 1799. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, 1989, n° 83.