Posted 4 years ago
Some of the cameos that give me the most pleasure are not great gems by the standards of jewelers or in the eyes of those who collect only the highest of high end pieces. They are like this little helmet shell cameo in what is probably a pinchbeck setting.
It is the scene and the degree of detail that delight. In the space of 3 cm (1 & 3/16 in.) are 6 figures, including one quadruped, depicting the procession of some of the followers of the wine god Dionysus/Bacchus, members of his 'revel rout'. Fat old Silenus (or Silenos), too inebriated to walk, lolls on his donkey, his progress trumpeted by a goat-footed satyr, or perhaps Pan himself, with the blast of a ram's horn. About them are fauns, other traditional members of the company, the one at the front dumping out the contents of his wine bowl. We can imagine the night is ending; all are retreating to snooze away the day, hidden in the cool woodlands.
We now use the word 'triumph' as synonymous with 'victory', but in its original sense it meant a procession, a parade, to celebrate a victory. It also came to be applied to scenes like this, the Triumph of Silenus, which, with variations, was a favorite with gem engravers. But it seems to me that wine was the victor here, literally knocking the paunchy old guy on his ass.