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Italian Neo-Classical Sardonyx Banded Agate Cameo of the Three Graces

The Greek poet Hesiod (Theogony, 907, ff.), ca. 700 BC, enumerates the Kharites, or Graces: Euphrosyne (Joy), Aglaea (Radiance) and Thalia (Blooming). They were the daughters of Zeus and the Oceanid, Eurynome. Residing on Olympus, they were the companions of Aphrodite and Hera. In ancient Hellenistic and Roman depictions of the subject, the compositional convention has the central figure with her back to the viewer, her two companions facing frontally. Here,all three Graces face forward, a direct quotation of Antonio Canova's celebrated Three Graces. Canova’s masterwork was commissioned in 1812 by the Empress Joséphine (d. 1814), wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. Ultimately, it was collected by Tsar Alexander I, and is now in the collections of the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford commissioned a second version. Completed in 1817, it is now held jointly by The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and the National Galleries of Scotland. The duke lavished praise on the work, particularly “the morbidezza, – that look of living softness given to the surface of the marble, which appears as if it would yield to the touch.”

early 19th Century, after 1814

Height: 20.7 mm. (0 13/16 in.)

Width: 15 mm (0 5/8 in.)


Ex: American private collection.

Published: Antiquarium, Ltd.; Ancient Treasures XIX. (London, 2020) p.54

Comparandum: Bertolami Fine Art; Antiques, Glyptics and Medieval Art (London, 04.09.2018) lot.362

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