Rome 1770 - Milan 1861
Portrait of a Young Man
A magnificent two-layered agate sculptural cameo of an as yet unidentified young man in profile; with flowing hair, a beard under his chin and gazing right in poetical attitude.
Signed on the truncation BERINI for Antonio Berini.
In an elaborate knotted gold frame, designed for suspension and to be pinned as a brooch. Milan 19th century.
Antonio Berini was an extraordinarily long-lived gem engraver. Born in Rome he was apprenticed to Giovanni Pichler. In his long lifetime he produced some remarkable gems, but has been little studied and little research has been done[i].
We do not know how the fine large carnelian intaglio George and the Dragon for a lesser Garter Badge that was in the British Royal Collections by the 1820’s[ii] was commissioned. Did he travel to London to cut it? Was it intended to challenge Pistrucci who also produced an intaglio for a Lesser George. Berini must have been in must have been in Vienna just after the fall of Napoleon for he cut a series of Imperial portraits and a superb intaglio of Teresa Casati Confalonieri whilst she was in prison, but as yet no record has been found.
Perhaps the charming story of his move to Milan has eclipsed his work. In 1805 Berini moved to Milan where, despite his suspected republican sympathies, he was commissioned by Count Caprara archbishop of Milan to cut a cameo portrait of Napoleon as a gift to celebrate his coronation there as King of Rome.
Apparently Caprara was delighted when Berini delivered the gem; but his delight turned to horror when he saw the thin vein of blood running across Napoleon’s neck. Fully aware of Berini’s republicanism he had Berini immediately locked up until Napoleon left Milan
You are acquainted, I am sure, with the rare talents of Berini, the famous gem engraver. We own several of his works and we will continue commissioning him to reproduce our paintings. (letter of count Sommariva to his son, 1817)
Condition. Hairline crack in stone.
[i] Pace a series of articles by Gabriella Tassinari on the casts of intaglios in Trieste and the relationship between Berini and Somariva
[ii] Aschengreen Piacenti, Kirsten and John Boardman: Ancient and Modern Gems and Jewels in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen. London: The Royal Collection, 2008.