Cameo with portrait busts of an Imperial Julio-Claudian couple

Imperial Period
mid-1st century A.D.


Overall: 4.8 x 4.3 cm (1 7/8 x 1 11/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


On View

Anne and Blake Ireland Gallery (Gallery 210A)


Jewelry, The Ancient World



White on brown layered onyx. Cameo. Two busts of a Julio-Claudian couple side-by-side; they are carved in very high relief. The man is wreathed and garbed in a toga, the edge of which is pulled over his head in an attitude of piety. He resembles portraits of the descendants (known as the “Julio-Claudians”) of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. The woman is garbed in the stola and under-tunic. Her hair is arranged in waves spreading from a central part; small curls appear below the wave on her forehead. Heavy ringlets fall over her shoulders. She also wears a wreath. The exact identities of these Imperial family members are not certain, but possibilities include Nero and Octavia, Claudius and Messalina or Agrippina, or Caligula and Drusilla. There is a chip in the lower edge of the gem, below the woman’s right shoulder.


By date unknown: Count Michel Tyszkiewicz Collection (said to have been found in Egypt, in the Fayoum, and then to have been in the Giovanni di Demetrio Collection); 1898: auction of the M. Tyszkiewicz Collection, Hotel des Commissaires-Priseurs, 9 rue Drouot, Paris, June 8-10, lot 273; 1898: with Edward Perry Warren; 1898: purchased by MFA from Edward Perry Warren for $ 69,618.13 (this figure is the total price for MFA 98.641-98.940)

Credit Line

Henry Lillie Pierce Fund