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Early Victorian Medusa Cameo Brooch

Early Victorian Medusa Cameo Brooch



DATE: Victorian, c.1840

A superb early Victorian shell cameo brooch depicting Medusa the Gorgon. The detailing is exceptional, with Medusa facing left and depicted in the Classical style with winged head and snakes tied beneath her chin. She's rendered in high relief and mounted in 9 karat gold.

Medusa is the best-known of the three monstrous Gorgon sisters. Their earliest reference is  found in Hesiod's Theogony, but it was Ovid who really fleshed out the story in the Metamorphoses, where he describes Medusa in her youth:

"Medusa once had charms; to gain her love
A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.
They, who have seen her, own, they ne'er did trace
More moving features in a sweeter face.
Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,
In golden ringlets wav'd, and graceful shone."

Her beauty caught the eye of Poseidon, who forced himself upon her in a shrine to Athena. Athena found out and was furious; she turned Medusa's hair into snakes and made her face so hideous that anyone who saw it was instantly turned to stone (quite literally petrified). In most versions of the story Medusa was killed by Perseus, who was given various items to help him on his quest: a mirrored shield from Athena, a sword forged by Hephaestus, and Hades's helm of invisibility. While looking at the reflection in the shield, Perseus was able to behead the Gorgon, at which point Pegasus flew out of her severed neck. He went on to use her head - which retained its petrifying effect - as a weapon, using it to transform the Titan Atlas into stone (where he still stands in North Africa as the Atlas Mountains), before eventually giving it to Athena.

Although Medusa is commonly regarded as a monster, her head is quite often found as a protective amulet to keep evil away. Indeed, the name Medusa comes from the ancient Greek word meaning "to guard or protect".


Shell cameo


3.7 x 2.7cm




None, frame tests as 9k gold and pin is in base metal


Very good, light wear/patina commensurate with age


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