The versatility of Castellani

Although Fortunato Pio Castellani was based in Rome and hence generally considered the father of classical archaeological revival style in the mid 19th Century, the firm experimented in various other styles from the past, including Byzantine, Renaissance, Baroque and, indeed, Egyptian. Cameos and scarabs of previous ages were often incorporated in Castellani’s creations adhering to a faithful rendering of the original form, while subtly enriching with novel and original details.

This gold, steatite and faience scarab and micromosaic necklace and brooch dating around 1860, are brilliant and rare examples of Castellani’s interpretation of Egyptian revival.

The necklace is set with 15 scarabs swivel mounted within gold frames decorated with multicoloured micromosaics of geometric design. The brooch is mounted with a scarab depicting Babi, the Egyptian baboon god, flanked by a pair of wings set with multicoloured mosaics and is an interpretation of the ubiquitous winged scarab dynastic jewels which were stitched to the wrapping over the chest of the mummies.

This Egyptian winged scarab consists of three pieces: an actual scarab beetle and two separately made wings. The wings are not those of a beetle, but those of a bird, as is apparent by their shape and the indication of individual feathers. Each piece features several small holes that were used to fasten the winged scarab to the wrappings of a mummy. Winged scarabs, meant to guarantee the rebirth of the deceased, were very popular funerary amulets | Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The concept of the winged scarab also fascinated Cartier in the second half of the 1920s and resulted in the  creation of a number  of this jewels with faience elements taken from their stock of apprêts – the fragments from disassembled jewellery and objects, including ancient items from Persian, Indian, Chinese, and Egyptian art.

Egyptian-Style Jewelled Scarab Belt Buckle, Cartier, Paris, 1926
The cobalt blue faience scarab flanked by turquoise faience wings, the wings edged by round and baguette diamonds set in platinum and with black enamelled details. Note how the holes through which the scarab would have been stitched to the mummy are camouflaged with cabochon sapphires.
The juxtaposition of cobalt blue and turquoise blue is a favourite and very distinctive colour combination of Cartier jewellery of this period.

In this set of jewels Castellani brilliantly and unexpectedly combines Egyptian scarabs with the Roman technique of micromosaics, an eighteenth-century development of an art that from Greek and Roman times had been used to decorate the floors and walls of villas, palaces and early Christian churches.

Unsurprisingly, jewels of Egyptian inspiration were not nearly as popular in Italy as they were becoming in England, where Carlo Giuliano’s production in this style encountered the favour of a small but select group of customers whose passion for Egyptomania had been growing since the beginning of the century. Its popularity in England was partly due to the tireless efforts of Miss Amelia Edwards, founder of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, who was responsible for bringing a large number of antiquities to London, including many scarabs which were collected and mounted by Carlo Giuliano.