Gold and Hardstone Cameo Ring, Giovanni Antonio Santarelli, Late 18th Century to Early 19th Century. photo Sotheby's

The hardstone cameo featuring the bust of Herakles or Omphale (in his guise) facing left, wearing the lion skin headdress, paws crossed at the neckline, the hardstone cameo signed Santarelli, size approximately 6½. Estimate 7,000—9,000 USD. Lot Sold 27,500 USD

NOTE: Giovanni Antonio Santarelli (1769-1826), a highly skilled Italian gem engraver and medallist, worked as engraver to Mints of Milan and Parma, also becoming a professor at the Academy in Florence where he lived most of the latter part of his life. Santarelli is reported to have worked with the Pichlers, another well-known family of Italian gem engravers. See Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, Vol. 5, L. Forrer, pp. 334-335, where it is also mentioned that he is said to have collaborated in the production of the Poniatowski gems. Two examples of his work are described in the British Museum Catalogue of Engraved Gems of the Post-Classical Periods, nos. 118 and 398.

The subject in the example offered here presents a feminized portrait of Herakles, who according to Greek mythology became the slave of Omphale (Queen of the kingdom of Lydia) and was made to dress in women's clothes, do women's work, and hold the basket for the wool spun by Omphale and her maidens. Conversely, the portrait could also represent Omphale as she is often portrayed in the guise of Herakles because legend has it that she donned Herakles' attributes of the lion skin headdress and brandished the club with which he slayed the Nemean Lion.

Sotheby's. Important Jewels, 02 Feb 11, New York www.sothebys.com