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Northern Italy

Snuff box with a cameo of the Birth of Venus Cameo: 2nd half 16th c. box: probably German c. 1740

RCIN 4075

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Gold and lapis cartouche shaped hinged box with tapering sides to oval agate base. Alternate panels of lapis and chased gold scrolls, fruit, flowers, birds, cornucopia and animals. Lid inset with onyx cameo depicting the Birth of Venus. In the centre, the naked goddess stands on a dolphin and holds a length of billowing drapery. She is flanked by two putti riding a hippocamp and a dolphin, and an ark-like ship sails on the horizon.

Although it is not known where the snuffbox was made or by whom, boxes incorporating semi-precious hard stones within gold mounts are usually associated with German makers in the eighteenth century, in particular the lapidaries and goldsmiths of Dresden.

Such snuffboxes often incorporated earlier ‘precious’ elements such as cameos, intaglios, enamels and ivories and this cameo is a late sixteenth century North Italian cameo with a subject popular during the Renaissance. It depicts the Birth of Venus; in the centre, the naked goddess stands on a dolphin and holds a length of billowing drapery. Behind her the winds are shown gently blowing her ashore. She is flanked by two putti riding a hippocamp and a dolphin, an ark-like ship sails on the horizon.