Cameo and Intaglio

Engraving stones for use as jewelry had been a highly prized art in early Assyrian (one of the great ancient empires of southeast Asia) and Egyptian cultures but only began to be developed in Greece in the sixth century B.C.E. The first method of engraving used by the Greeks was known as intaglio, or cutting a design into the surface of a stone. Intaglios, especially those on signet rings, were used as signatures by stamping impressions of the design into wax or other substances. Later, in the fourth century B.C.E. , engravers perfected a method of creating raised designs on stones, called cameo.

The Greeks engraved designs into a variety of precious stones, such as onyx, sardonyx, agate, cornelian, sard, chalcedony, jasper, and lapis lazuli, as well as gems, such as emerald, sapphire, ruby, and garnet. Once engraved, these stones were set in delicately engraved and carefully shaped precious metals, such as gold.

Later cultures also developed methods of both intaglio and cameo engraving. Roman jewelers in the first century C.E. made intricate wedding rings with carvings of the heads of the bride and groom and delicate pendants. Rich citizens of the Byzantine Empire of the fourth through the fifteenth centuries C.E. wore cameo rings and other elaborate jewelry. Cameo brooches or pins with medallions of profiled heads were especially popular among European women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.


Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume: From Ancient Mesopotamia Through the Twentieth Century. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

[ See also Volume 3, Eighteenth Century: Cameo ]

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: