Cameo with Saint and Saint Demetrios Blessed by Christ
The Grand Camée de France (Great cameo of France), the largest cameo sculpture to survive from the ancient world, contains 24 engraved figures arrayed in three registers. The general meaning and the political goals of this commissioned work are clear: its aim is to assert the dynastic continuity and legitimacy of the Julio-Claudian emperors of the Roman Empire (the first five emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero). The dead are placed in the upper part, while the middle register represents the world of the living. In the lowest register are Parthian and Germanic captives. Emperor Augustus can be recognized in the upper register, with his head veiled and encircled by a radiant crown; he is surrounded by Germanicus, mounted on a winged horse, and the son of the Emperor Tiberius, Drusus Julius Caesar. The floating figure with Eastern-style dress, carrying a globe in his hands, could be Aeneas. The center of the gem is reserved for Tiberius, sitting on his throne with his mother Livia. He presides over a solemn ceremony that is believed to be the appointment of Nero (standing armed before him) as Prince of Youth in 23 AD. This five-layered sardonyx cameo was made at around that date.
The piece traveled from the imperial treasury of Rome to that of Byzantium and finally to the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, where it was brought by pillaging crusaders.