Pair of earrings with Medusa cameos

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In the classical world, the head of the gorgon Medusa was thought of as the ultimate protection against harm. The mythological hero Perseus used the snaky-locked head to turn his enemies to stone. In Roman times, the head of the Gorgon was used to bring good fortune and frighten away the evil eye.

This pair of earrings is set of good luck charms. A stone cameo (perhaps of agate or chalcedony) with this face makes up the central part of each of these exquisite gold earrings. Each is circled by a profusion of granule decoration and a snaking row of filigree. Below each is a moulding shape from which three pendants hang, each with red stones, most probably of cornelian.

Filigree was one of the kinds of metalwork most used in Ancient Greek jewellery and inherited by the Romans. It is at the same time both a system of construction and decoration based on the use of threads of metal, of gold, silver, bronze, or some other alloy.

Since antiquity, the world of jewellery has had a close relationship to a determined status. Both men and women enjoyed being surrounded by luxury and enjoyed the use of precious stones and metals. However, while men introduced these into their life in general, for example, in the decoration of their houses, women were the only ones to wear adornments. The only exception in the case of men was that they did wear rings.

Roman jewellery reached heights of invention never seen before and never surpassed until the Renaissance. Imperial Rome was the world centre for jewellery and great quantities of precious stones and materials were imported for use in this field.

Initially the style of the pieces was typically Etruscan or Greek, but soon a style of its own developed in Rome. Pieces were ornate and sumptuous with mountings of precious stones, opus interassile metalwork and mosaics of small stones set on gold and silver. Another specialty of Roman craftsmanship was the cutting of gems, the highly-esteemed engraving and sculpting, above all on cameos of agate and onyx, stones with diverse layers of colours that, once the working on the piece was finished, produced an effect of depth and polychromy. Mostly cameos were dedicated to portraiture.

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