The art of cameo engraving in the Medici’s collection

The Medici’s collection of cameos and carved gemstones, housed at the Treasury of the Gran Dukes (formerly known as Silver Museum), is among the rarest and most precious in the world. For this reason, the exhibition entitled “Precious and beautiful. The Medici’s cameos and engravings” is dedicated to the collecting of these fascinating works of art.

The Medici family had a predilection for collecting jewels and cameos, and developed a particular interest for the artistic carving of precious and semi-precious gemstones. They started to collect these works of art actively and they formed one of the most important collections in history, which was a source of great prestige for the family.

In the first half of the fifteenth century cameos and engravings were sought-after by princes, popes and cardinals. The success of cameos and gemstones was related to various reasons; firstly, the art of carving gemstones required the use of rare and very costly materials, as well as craftsmen with extraordinary technical capabilities. Secondly, magical powers were attributed to cameos and engravings depending on the type of material used and on the subject of the depiction. Moreover, their small dimensions and ease of transport made them ideal gifts for illustrious figures, as well as an excellent form of investment, a capital to draw on in moments of great difficulty.

The exhibition presents a selection of pieces of exceptional quality coming from the most important Italian and foreign museums. The exhibition aims to illustrate the complex history of this collection, from its origins to the eighteenth century. Over the years the Medici family, and in particular Cosimo, Piero and Lorenzo, formed a superb collection of cameos and carved gemstones.

Giovanni Antonio de’Rossi, Cammeo con i ritratti di Cosimo I de’ Medici, Eleonora di Toledo e cinque figli, Firenze, Museo degli ArgentiDioskourides, Apollo, Olimpo e Marsia, prima metà del I secolo d.C., intaglio in corniola, Napoli, Museo Archeologico Nazionale.Sandro Botticelli, Ritratto femminile, tempera su tavola, Frankfürt am Main, Städel Museum, Gemäldegalerie.Copia o studio da Michelangelo, Giovane nudo addormentato sopra un sedile, carboncino nero, penna e inchiostro bruno, Frankfurt am Main, Städel Museum.


Precious and beautiful. The Medici’s cameos and engravings

Treasury of the Grand Dukes (Silver Museum), Pitti Palace, Florence

25 March – 27 June 2010

Exhibition curated by Ornella Casazza and Riccardo Gennaioli

Exhibition catalogue published by Sillabe (available only in Italian)

Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici della Toscana, Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze; Museo degli Argenti, Firenze Musei, Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze