Florence Nightingale Cameo

14th January 2020

A cameo brooch carved with a portrait believed to be that of Florence Nightingale is being sold at auction in the year that sees the bicentenary of her birth.

The brooch, by renowned Italian carver, Tommaso Saulini, is being sold just a few miles from Nightingale’s family home of Embley Park in East Wellow and the church where she is buried.

It is part of a larger collection of cameo and intaglio jewellery being sold on Thursday 23rd January, which includes examples dating from two thousand years ago as well as a good number of “Revival” pieces from the 19th century.

Tommaso Saulini was one of the most celebrated cameo carvers of Victorian times, who exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition and the 1862 International Exhibition in London, and who cut the cameos for the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert. It is likely that the cameo of Nightingale was derived from the 1856 photograph by William Edward Kilburn, as few painted portraits of the famed nurse were executed during her lifetime.

“Florence Nightingale is always a popular figure and remains something of a local celebrity,” said Marielle Whiting, Jewellery specialist at Woolley and Wallis, “but with the bicentenary of her birth this year there is a lot more interest in her and in what she achieved. That interest was just as keen when she came to prominence during the Crimean War and it was probably around that time that this cameo was carved, when Saulini was also at the height of his career.”

The brooch is expected to make around £500 when it is sold at the end of the month, although it has little in the way of intrinsic value. “The cameo is carved from a shell and mounted on silver with a border of seed pearls,” explained Whiting, “so we are not talking precious stones and high value metals. The value is in the exceptional quality of the carving and the reputation of the artist, as well as the popularity of the subject.”

A similar cameo, executed by Tommaso Saulini’s son, Luigi, depicts a younger Nightingale and is included in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, having been donated in 1940 from the Milton Weil Collection. Other examples of his work are in the Royal collection at Buckingham Palace, and in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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