In this exhibition, which features the smallest objects that we have ever brought together, two large personalities emerge – Frederick II Hohenstaufen (1194-1250) and René of Anjou (1409–1480). Celebrated for their art patronage, the reigns of these two rulers represent the peak of cameo production in the Middle Ages. And as the art of glyptics was deeply rooted in antiquity, it is no surprise that it flourished at a time when there was a renewed interest in the classical past.
Cameos and intaglios were collected throughout the Middle Ages, often to be refashioned and reinterpreted as amulets, seals and reliquary ornaments. These precious stones were thought to possess miraculous powers and some of the most celebrated objects from the medieval period gained their fame precisely from the carved gems incorporated into them.
Our exhibition is as small as the objects themselves because only five precious gems take the stage here. Included are two rare lion cameos from the court of Frederick II Hohenstaufen and one of only four known cameo portraits of René of Anjou. Together these objects help us understand the history of cameos but they also give us a glimpse into an artform which had a monumental impact on the medieval viewer.