The Great Cameo of France (French: Grand Camée de France) is a five-layered sardonyx Imperial Roman cameo of either about 23 AD, or 50–54 AD. It is 31 cm by 26.5 cm. It is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
It is the largest Roman imperial cameo to have survived. It would have been an object of great value and prestige, almost certainly made for a member of the ruling Julio-Claudian dynasty. It is carved with twenty-four figures, divided into three levels. The identity of some figures, and the meaning and iconographic intent of the work have been much debated, but it is clear that the piece is intended to assert the continuity and dynastic legitimacy of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
The interpretation of the family group alters with the date given to the gem. In the upper level are its deceased or deified members including Divus Augustus. The surrounding figures may be Drusus the Younger (son of Tiberius), and Drusus the Elder (brother of Tiberius) flying on Pegasus.
In the middle level appear the emperor Tiberius flanked by his mother Livia; standing in front of them are Germanicus, Tiberius's designated heir, together with his wife Agrippina the Elder, behind them the future emperor Nero and the figure of Providentia (Foresight); behind Livia and Tiberius are Claudius, emperor if the cameo was made in c. 50–54 AD, and his wife Agrippina the Younger. Agrippina the Younger's hairstyle seems to confirm a date for the cameo between her marriage to Claudius in 49 and the accession of her son Nero as the fifth emperor of Rome in 54.
Alternatively, the cameo was commissioned to celebrate Tiberius adoption of his grandchildren, the sons of Germanicus, as heirs in 23 AD, and the dynastic stability it ensured, comparable to the earlier adoption of Germanicus by Tiberius in 4 AD, also referenced on the cameo and in the Gemma Augustea. In the lowest level are captive barbarians.
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 the Sainte Chapelle before 1279. It was then known as the Triumph of Joseph at the Court of the Pharaoh. It was sold by Baldwin II, emperor of the Latin Empire, to Louis IX of France. It is then mentioned in the 1279 inventory list of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Philip VI of France consecutively sent it to Pope Clement VI in Avignon in 1342 or 1343 possibly as collateral for financial support. In 1363, Pope Clement VII then returned it to the Dauphin, the later Charles V of France. The cameo was then brought to Saint-Chapelle in 1379.
Louis XVI of France then claimed the cameo in 1792 and brought it to the Cabinet des médailles in order to protect it from the French revolutionaries. It was briefly stolen in 1804 but recovered in Amsterdam in 1805 without its original gold frame, which was replaced by a bronze one that in turn was lost until 1912.
- The date is still a matter of debate (W.-R. Megow, Kameen von Augustus bis Alexander Severus, Berlin, 1987, A 85.). See also H. Jucker, Der große Pariser Kameo. Eine Huldigung an Agrippina, Claudius und Nero, in Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 91 (1976), pp. 211-250, W.-R. Megow, Kameen von Augustus bis Alexander Severus, Berlin, 1987, pp. 205-207.
- K.A. Morrow, Disputation in Stone: Jews Imagined on the Saint Stephen Portal of Paris Cathedral, in M. Merback (ed.), Beyond the Yellow Badge: Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism in Medieval and Early Modern Visual Culture, Leiden, 2007, p. 81. See also: M. Avisseau-Broustet, Le Grand Camée de la Sainte-Chapelle, in J. Durand - M.-P. Laffitte (edd.), Le Trésor de la Sainte-Chapelle, Parijs, 2001, pp. 90-95 (non vidi).
- E. Zwierlein-Diehl, Antieke Gemmen und ihr Nachleben, Berlijn, 2007, p. 245.
- Finds Great Cameo's Frame
- 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. Also:Professor Luca Giuliani, The Great Cameo of France and the succession of Tiberius (2004-2007).
- Jucker, HNA "Der Grosse Pariser Kameo," Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts 91 (1976) 211–50.
- Politik in Edelstein - Gemmennachschnitte von Gerhard Schmidt. Gerhard Schmidt, Klaus Scherberich, Marcell Perse. Grand Camée de France, S. 62–69. Nünnerich-Asmus; 1. Edition, 2019. ISBN 978-3-96176-096-1
- Exp. 1789, Le Patrimoine libéré : 200 trésors entrés à la Bibliothèque nationale de 1789 à 1799. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, 1989, n° 83.