Some of the terms commonly used in descriptions of cameos and their subjects, as well as technical terms relating to gemology, glyptics, and classical art.



aegis   originally the goatskin shield of Zeus, most often used by extension for the breastplate of Athena, which typically carries the head of Medusa
agate banded microcrystalline quartz, chalcedony, that grows in layers; layers may naturally be of different colors ranging from cream to dark brown, sometimes dark blue, or be naturally slightly different shades of grey but, due to layers differing in degree of porosity, this material can be dyed so layers are black & white, red & white, red, lavender & white, blue & white, green & white; commonly called 'hardstone' when used for cameos
amoretto/amorino   See cupid; little love; pl., amoretti/amorini; French texts use amour/amours
anaglyph   see cameo
angel skin   the paler shades, from blush pink to light salmon, of red coral; incorrectly appled to conch shell
anguiped   having serpents for legs; often seen in scenes of the gigantomachy, to emphasize the montrousness of the giants
antique   something made at least 100 years before the current date; items dating to Imperial Rome or earlier are usually termed antiquities
apotropaic   From the Greek for 'turning away', said of amulets & other items endowed with the power to turn away evil.
attribute   any object or being that has special significance for & connection with a god, mortal or allegorical figure; a symbolic way of indicating identity
bloodstone   informal name for heliotrope, a form of jasper that is deep green with red spots, it was much used for glyptic depictions of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns because of the suggestion of blood drops
callipygous   an epithet/adjective meaning a figure has beautiful buttocks, also the French aux belles fesses; an epithet of Aphrodite/Venus
cameo   a small relief (raised) carving, especially those carved from natural materials & intended for use in jewelry or as decorative objects; also anaglyph
cameo painted, porcelain figures & scenes that are painted on porcelain, ivory, or any other material are miniatures/portrait miniatures, not cameos
cameo coins, numismatics a term describing the degree of definition between the figure & ground on coins, indicating the backgound is highly polished & shiny wihile figure is textured
carnelian, cornelian   chalcedony that is red brown in color; cornelian is correct ( for the color of cornelian cherries), but carnelian more commonly used in the US; darker shades also called sard; may be 1 layer of a layer stone
chalcedony   a microcrystalline form of the mineral quartz; in purest form it is nearly white; shades of blue-grey to pale lilac are also called chalcedony; the basic constituent of agate
chalcedonyx   hardstone (agate) with a white layer over a colored layer that is not the orange-brown of sard but the blue-grey or pale lilac of chalcedony
chevee   see cuvette
commesso   describes a cameo that uses a mixture of materials, such as gold, gems & enamel, as well as the underlying hardstone or shell
confronted   facing, of compositions with 2 profiles facing one another
cuirass   armor covering upper body; a figure wearing one is 'cuirassed'
cupid   a term for a figure that looks like the god Cupid/Eros in his child form, but is more of an allegorical figure signifying love, not the god himself
cuvette, curvette   a cameo that rises out of a concave surface; from French for 'little cup'
dextral   facing viewer's right, of profiles
diaglyph   see intaglio
Edwardian   dating to the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 - 1910
effigy   likeness of a figure; on cameos most often bust of a god or Homer/poet, set on a plinth for veneration or, if Hermes, for guidance
epithet   a title or descriptive phrase associated with a deity & sometimes used in place of the name; e.g., Father of the Gods, Prince of Peace
eros   pl., erotes, see cupid
fecit   Latin: "made [it]"; sometimes seen after the incised name of the gem engraver; frequently abbreviated to F, as in TERESA TALANI F
fillet   a ribbon or band worn around the head, across the brow, to restrain the hair; worn by men & women
French jet   see Vulcanite
Georgian   used broadly for items dating to the reigns of Kings George III & IV, 1760 - 1830, including the Regency period, & that of William IV, 1830 - 1837
glyptics, glyptography   the art of engraving stone, particularly gems, & the study of engraved gems; sometimes extended to cameos in other materials
gryllus   a grotesque compound figure of faces or other body parts, often partly human; plural: grylloi
gutta-percha   a type of latex, very hard when dry; used to simulate jet
habillé, en habillé   French: 'attired' or 'dressed'; a cameo that has added accents in a material other than that of the primary work, e.g., gemstones or enamel, often a diamond necklace or other jewelry, is en habillé
hairline   fine crack in the background layer of a cameo, particularly if it does not run all the way through from front to back or break the figure; more common in shell, where it is caused by dryness and/or pressure of a bezel setting; also called stress lines
hardstone   generic term for forms of chalcedony, particularly agate & carnelian, used for cameos.  Equivalent to Italian pietra dura.  Softer stones, such as opal & turquoise, are not hardstone nor is lava of the solidified ash type.
harpe   a mythological weapon with a curved blade, described & discussed on Wikipedia.  Most often seen with Cronus, in place of the scythe distinctive of Saturn, or in the hand of the hero Perseus.
heliotrope   see bloodstone
hematite   dark silver grey mineral, a form of ferous oxide, red when cut in thin slices; popular for intaglios
intaglio   stone or glass etched so that the figure or scene is below the front surface, not raised (in relief); also diaglyph
ithyphallic   having an erect penis, usually applied to figures in art works: attribute of the god Priapus
janate   like Janus, a head with 2 faces back to back
jasper   opaque chalcedony, variously colored, sometimes a single color, more often with inclusions creating spots, bands or irregular patches of other colors
jet   very dense carbon material related to coal; Whitby, England, a major source
jugate   juxtaposed, of cameos with one profile overlapping another, frequently a hero or ruler and spouse
klismòs   a type of Roman chair with curved legs that flair outward
laureate   wearing a laurel wreath; may be mythological figure or historical individual, either one seen as possessing the gifts of Apollo in the arts or intellect, as in 'poet laureate', or as a victor in battle, the corona triumphalis
lava   generic term for any product of volcanic eruption; cameos cut in both the relatively soft solidified ash type of lave & the much harder basalt are both called lava
layer stone   jewelry trade term for any stone, but usually agate, with discrete bands of color that can be carved so that ground & figure have different color; German: Lagenstein or Lagenachat
marcasite   crystallized iron pyrite (fool's gold), very sparkly, used as ornamentation; a jewelry trade term as genuine marcasite is not suitable for wear
mythologic   a Cameo Times neologism referring to the presence or absence of an image's internal consistency & adherence to traditional conventions.  E.g., a figure with the crescent moon of Diana & the wings of Psyche lacks mythologic.
nebris   fawn skin worn by followers of Dionysus/Bacchus; sometimes used for panther or other skins in same context, also nebrides
nicolo   term used to describe agate with a thin white top layer over a black under layer.  The dark filtered through the white can cause the upper layer to appear blue.
onyx black chalcedony that has been dyed black, it does not occur in nature; may be one layer of a layer stone; see sardonyx
ouroboros   snake biting/swallowing own tail; symbol of the cyclicity of time, seasons, life & death, rebirth
pietra dura   Italian for hard stone; in English usually employed in descriptions of mosaic or inlay work rather than for cameos, where 'hardstone' (q.v.) is used; the opposite term is pietra mòlle, shell was regarded as pietra mòlle
plinth   a block or short column used to support an effigy
putto   pl., putti, similar to a cupid or cherub, but lacking wings
rape   abduction, grabbing & carrying off; not necessarily synonymous with sexual violation
relief bas- or high a sculpture technique that produces figures attached to a ground rather than free standing, 3-dimensioanl figures. If the figures are raised only slightly above the ground, bas-relief (low relief); if the figures stand out prominently, high relief.   Most shell & hardstone cameos are bas-relief; some lava & coral cameos are in high relief (alto rilievo).
reverse carved   etched from the back side so figure shows through smooth front surface of a transparent gemstone or glass.  The term used in the glyptics field is 'rovescio'.
sard   a darker brown shade of carnelian/cornelian chalcedony
sardonyx   a layer stone with alternating bands of sard & white; 'onyx' comes from the Greek word for fingernail; pieces with the background layer dyed to black are also called sardonyx
shell Cassis a family of thick heavy-walled shells, common name helmet shell, but also cameo shell, carnelian/cornelian shell, sardonyx shell, used for the majority of shell cameos; background color ranges from bright orange to dull brown, figures range from white to cream
shell conch any shell in the Strombus family; produces cameos with white to cream figures on a background ranging from bright pink to nearly white, especially Strombus gigas, queen conch; these cameos are thicker than helmet shell pieces and require strong backlighting to show translucence
shell cowrie any shell in the Cypraea family of snails; somewhat egg shaped, with edges curling in from both sides, not just one; thick, shiny outer surface can be carved away to reveal brown, ivory & purple layers beneath; occasionally used for cameos with classic subjects, more often as tourist souvenirs with palm trees, etc., the tiger cowrie especially popular for this
sinistral   facing the viewer's left, of profiles; while profiles facing this direction are somewhat less common than dextral (q.v.) ones, they are far from rare & are not of any greater value
sphendone   a ribbon used to bind a woman's hair, wound round the head, crossing the crown
stress line   see hairline
tiger('s) eye   tawny fibrous quartz with cat's eye effect
throne   Greek thronos = chair; thrones in classical scenes look more like chairs or stools, an inidcator of royalty, often with a footrest as well; see also klismòs
triumph   a procession, not necessarily one of victory
undercutting   carving away cameo material so that there is open space spearating the figure & the ground
Victorian   dating to the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837 - 1901
Vulcanite   a type of hardened rubber; used to simulate jet, sometimes called French jet