George W. Jamison (American, 1810ndash;1868), cameo cutter; William Rose (American, active 1839–50), metalworker
Helmet-conch shell, enamel, gold
Overall 2 1/2 x 2 1/4 in. (6.4 x 5.7 cm)
Purchase, Susan and Jon Rotenstreich Gift, 2000 (2000.562)
"Cameo fever" swept through Europe and England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, fueled by Napoleon's fascination with Roman cameos. The art of cameo cutting flourished primarily in Italy, reviving a centuries-old craft. With skilled cutters and ample supplies of appropriate shells, Italy became a center for the art. Cameo jewelry was sold locally or exported to foreign retailers in Europe, England, and America. Helmet shell and queen conch shell cameos were favored during the nineteenth century. Skilled craftsmen could achieve detailed portraits or miniature scenes by cutting through the layers to reveal contrasting colors.
American sculptors sometimes supplemented their work by carving cameos. George W. Jamison cut this profile bust of Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) and signed it below the shoulder with his initials, G J. Working as a cameo cutter in New York between 1835 and 1838, Jamison exhibited his "Conchylia portraits" at the National Academy in 1835. William Rose then mounted the cameo in a multicolored gold wreath enclosing a black enameled border bearing the inscription THE UNION / IT MUST AND / SHALL BE / PRESERVED, a paraphrase of Jackson's famous dinner toast in 1830.