On the cameo, the Virgin stands upright with open hands raised, thus adopting the most ancient posture for prayer, called “orans.” From the eighth century, artists tended to represent praying figures bowing and kneeling, although related images of the Virgin orans do appear in the eleventh century, such as on a serpentine roundel in the Victoria and Albert Museum (accession no. A.I-1927), as well as on certain coin issues of Constantine IX (1042-1055) and Constantine X (1059-1067). This cameo is probably also eleventh-century, and harks back to venerable ancient archetypes, for example the apse mosaic in the monastery dedicated to the Virgin in the district of Blachernai in the north end of Constantinople. The cameo is then doubly venerable, representing not just the Mother of God, but a time-honored image of the Mother of God. The intention of the ever praying Mother of God is to gain mercy and redemption from the sins on behalf of the wearer.
The material is bloodstone, a semi-precious stone with a high silica content which gives it its glassy appearance. It is especially prized for its bright scarlet streaks formed by iron content.
The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University, Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 73, no. 144.
The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 100, no. 217.
M. C. Ross, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, vol. 1, Metalwork, Ceramics, Glass, Glyptics, Painting (Washington, D.C., 1962), 100, no. 121, pl. LVIII.
Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 99, no. 337, fig. 337.
S. Trümpler, "Die byzantinische Marienkamee der Abegg-Stiftung in Riggisberg," Zeitschrift für schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte 43.1 (1986), esp. 12, fig. 5.
A. Kirin, J. N. Carder, and R. S. Nelson, Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ed. A. Kirin, exhibition catalogue, Georgia Museum of Art, (Athens, Ga., 2005), 60, no. 4.
Athens, GA, Georgia Museum of Art, “Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss,” May 15 – November 6, 2005.
Gift of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss to Dumbarton Oaks, 1946.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.