Glass; H. 9 1/2 x 20 3/4 in. (24.1 x 52.7 cm)
Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1881 (81.10.347)
Early Roman cameo glass objects vary in size from the very small, such as cameos set in finger rings (17.194.332,334,344,346), to the extremely large, exemplified by the fragment shown here. A suitable method of creating such large cameos was to heat and fuse appropriately sized pieces of overlay onto the background and then to carve them individually. This was a much more efficient and economical process than casing the entire piece with overlay and then cutting away large swathes of unneeded glass.
In this example, patches of opaque white glass were added onto a background of deep purple and carved into various marine animals, such as the scallop, crab, squid, and clam still preserved, giving the illusion that they are swimming in Homer's famous "wine-dark" sea. It is said to have been found on the Italian island of Capri, near the villa where the emperor Tiberius (r. 1437 A.D.) lived in seclusion during the last decade of his reign. It is possible that this object was a part of the furnishing from the imperial villa, and would have reflected in its marine motifs the peaceful atmosphere of an island retreat.