Beyond the Pale

Cameo Role: BBC’s Emma & Cameo Fashion
October 4, 2009, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Accessories, Autumn, BBC, Costume Dramas, Emma, Etsy, Fall, Fashion, Fripperies, Jane Austen, Regency, Trinkets

I have just been watching the new BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and pronounce it to be [horribly quoting from the wrong book, but never mind] “Tolerable“. Well that’s a little unkind, it doesn’t have anything bad about it, really, but neither is it particularly electrifying. Everyone is doing their turn and doing it well enough – it’s perfect Autumnal Sunday evening viewing, so we can’t complain. Eye-candy abounds in home decor, winsome peaches & cream complexions and well-fitting breeches scattered liberally about the scenery.

Watch a preview clip:

In my mind, Jane Austen adaptations are forever entwined with cameos in my mind. I have no idea why. Well, actually that’s a lie. When I was a little girl, I had a collected edition of Austen’s novels that had a large picture of a cameo on the front cover. Therefore, Austen = Cameo and Cameo = Austen in my easily-befuddled head. So there.

Cameos have a truly fascinating history as fashionable pieces of wearable art – I have always been attracted to their strikingly simple beauty yet decadently intricate appeal. My mother introduced them to me – we would spend hours looking in antique shop windows, gazing longingly at the images and wondering who they depicted and who wore them…

Victorian Hand Carved Shell Cameo

Victorian Hand Carved Shell Cameo: $515

Lit from Behind to show the clarity of carving

Lit from Behind to show up any hairline cracks

The following snippets of information are from Anna M. Miller’s book, Cameos Old & New – a brilliant resource for those wishing to further their knowledge on this subject.

  • Early Greek and Roman carvings featured images of gods and goddesses, themes from mythology, beautiful women and biblical events.
  • Many cameos through history depict living heroes or rulers.
  • In the Hellenistic era young women used cameos as charms to express desire. A woman could wear a cameo depicting a dancing Eros as a seductive invitation to love.
  • During the Renaissance, Pope Paul II was an avid cameo collector. According to history, this love ultimately led to his death. His excessive display of carved gems and stones on his fingers kept his hands so cold that he caught the chill that meant his death.
  • Cameos have been used on helmets and military accessories like breastplates and sword handles, on rings and other jewelry, and on vases, cups and dishes.
  • Women began collecting cameos to prove cultural status during the Elizabethan period. At the same time, tourist travels to the ruins of Pompeii were on the rise and women began collecting shell and lava cameos as souvenirs to remember their travel.
  • During the 18th century, men purchased carved gems to mark their prestige and culture.
  • Cameos enchanted Napoléon, who wore a cameo to his own wedding and founded a school in Paris to teach the art of cameo carving to young apprentices.
  • Not until the nineteenth century, when the popularity of shell cameos grew — reducing the use of hardstones or agate — did profiles become as popular a subject matter as they are today.
French Baroque Cameo Ca. 1820: £18,616...

French Baroque Cameo Ca. 1820: £18,616...

If you click on the above picture of the utterly jaw-dropping French Baroque cameo, you’ll be taken to a page where you may read more about the history of how cameos are made. Or you can order the cameo and buy me a house with the money left in your wallet. Alternatively – and perhaps a little more affordable for the rest of us – you may choose to peruse my cameo-inspired choices from various lovely Etsy sellers…

Cameo Role

Direct links to items shown:

Devani Weaver

Bean and the Sprout

Chocolate Creative


Bella Chic Designs

High Street Market

Cameo Role 2

Further links:

Tina Tarnoff

Briana Edelman Designs

Lissa Creates

Peterene Design

Essence of Gaia

Louise Black

In case you have been living in a cupboard, Louise Black is currently starring in the current series of Project Runway. She has long been one of my favourite Etsy designers and I lust after one of these corsets (though to be perfectly honest, my corset wearing days are likely over. Let’s face it. I’m likely to get more use of one of her gorgeous cuffs. But OH look at the corset… *le-sigh*

Louise Black Cameo Corset: $189.50

Louise Black Cameo Corset: $189.50

I do think the cameo dress in my above selection is a very wearable piece, though. For those of us less blessed in the leg department, one may choose to team it with leggings (even I have succumbed to leggings this season!) or extremely opaque tights and either cute ballet flats or knee-boots.

Victorian Cameo Dress by Devani Weaver: $165

Victorian Cameo Dress by Devani Weaver: $165

Another effortless wearable (and affordable!) piece that I didn’t have room for in my initial selection but still wanted to share with you, is this delightful Marie Antoinette Cameo Shirt by Thirty Three Degrees:

Marie Antoinette Shirt by Thirty Three Degrees: $22

Marie Antoinette Shirt by Thirty Three Degrees: $22

Finally, I just have to include this dinky little cat cameo cushion by Kerry Kate – I know I want one in my house!

Small Cat Silhouette Print Pillow by Kerry Kate: $22.50

Small Cat Silhouette Print Pillow by Kerry Kate: $22.50

Well, I think I have probably prattled on long enough for today, my dearies, so until next time…

Yours besottedly,

Miss Nightingale



8 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you so much for including my cameo clutch! I guess I’m not too upset about having to miss Emma if it’s not stellar, I’m completely addicted to BBC America though. 🙂

Comment by Briana

Emma wasn’t all that was it- and I had been so looking forward to it. Perhaps it will warm up though. I thought Johnny Lee Miller was quite good- and Michael Gambon cannot be anything except brilliant. I actually found Emma/ Romola pretty annoying- and I like Romola Garai a lot normally. Then I suppose Emma Woodhouse is a bit annoying- so perhaps it’s spot on and I will grow to love her.

I like cameos too- my Mother doesn’t at all but my Grandmother did and I have a black and white one of hers that I treasure. Italy is cameo heaven!

Comment by Rose

No, I was really disappointed by Emma and had been so thrilled to finally sit down, tea & cake at hand (sadly essential with costume dramas for me) ready to be charmed. It just felt as though everyone was going through their paces a bit, like race horses trotting around a paddock with pretty ribbons as leading strings. Totally agree that Johnny Lee Miller was quite good, though, and of course Michael Gambon could be reading out his last quarterly telephone bill and still be wonderful to watch. I think my main dislike does stem from Emma / Romola. I just want to slap her! Though, as you say, she is supposed to be annoying. Grrr.

Ooh, how lovely that your Grandmother’s cameo has passed to you – I hope you wear it! I once bid on a stunning, very high relief cameo on ebay and kept upping my bids in a mad moment of MUST HAVE fever. Luckily I lost. Luckily as I wouldn’t have been able to afford to eat that month, probably, but I do still mourn it terribly and believe it should, rightly, belong to me. And would likely be far happier being worn by me than whoever won it, too! Such is life. 🙂

(By the way, do buy the spoon watch – it’s the best watch I’ve ever had and I get daily compliments on it!)

Thank you so much for your comments, they are truly appreciated and have made my day. 🙂

Comment by beyondthepaleblog

I really enjoyed Emma and can’t wait to see the next episode, English do the best period dramas!! I have learned quite a few things about cameos in here so thanks for that and for including my Cameos cuhsion!!

Comment by Margarita Lorenzo

Ah tea, cake, costume drama, that all sounds perfect to me.

I’ve put you on my blogroll and will definitely be back, it’s great reading. I am going to have to get a watch, the real question is which one!

Comment by Rose

I’ve only seen the 1st episode and was a tad disappointed, I think because Jonny Lee Miller doesn’t seem old enough …he’s 16 years older than Emma and it doesn’t quite match. And Emma is more annoying than she should be LOL I think I’ll go back and watch “North & South” Elizabeth Gaskell is no Jane Austen, but then again Romola is no Emma!

Comment by Vivienne

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It’s All About Cameos…

Molded cameos are usually made of glass. Often the colors are swirled together. Glass cameos are usually quite shiny. Molded cameos are also molded from plastic. The Wedgwood style cameos were made from plastic. Plastic makes a terrific imitation shell…


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