One morning while I was getting ready for work, I realized my precious cameo ring had gone missing! It was not on top of the dresser where I always leave it before going to bed. Frantic, I looked everywhere but couldn’t find it. I was late for work and had to dash out the door – I only hoped that I would find it when I got home that evening. You can’t imagine how heartbroken I felt to think that I may have lost this ring forever!
On one of my trips, I practically scoured the entire country of Italy to find this ring – at street vendors in Rome, at a weekend antique market in Arezzo, in every-single vintage jewelery store I passed throughout Umbria and Toscana. I saw many beautiful cameos, but they were set in gold and I prefer silver. I was becoming very discouraged. I am not really a jewelery-kind-of-girl, but there is something very special about cameos. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had an affection for them. My father fought in North Africa and Sicily during WWII and when he returned home, he brought with him loose cameos for his mother and sisters. As a wedding gift to my mother, my father had a bracelet made of six different size and colored cameos strung together in a rose-colored base metal. It is a lovely piece, full of significance and the closest our family has to an “heirloom”. At my own wedding I wore it as “something borrowed”. Although my marriage didn’t last, my fascination with cameos remained.
Cameos from ancient and Renaissance times were carved from semi-precious gemstones, but later they were more typically produced out of shell and glass. Cameos almost always have a raised, positive relief image – contrasting with a negative image. Although the Romans sometimes used shell for carving cameos, it was not until the 15th and 16th centuries that the use of this material became prevalent. By the 18th Century, the demand for cameos grew. In fact, Queen Victoria became one of the major “trend-setters” of cameos in the second half of the 19th century. Modern cameos are often carved by ultrasonic machines because very few people work in this field today. Cameo carving by hand requires artistic ability, skilled craftsmanship and many years of experience in order to create these tiny life-like portraits. The world center for cameo carving in shell is Torre del Greco, in the Campania region of Italy.
With only two days left before my departure, I was running out of time. On a stroll down the main Corso in Orvieto, I passed what could only be described as a “thrift shop” (negozio l’usato). Filled with mostly Pinocchio key chains and tacky refrigerator magnets – there on a table in the window among the tourists’ souvenirs – was my ring! It is a coffee-colored cameo, oval in shape and about one inch in length. It’s encircled by a setting of patinaed silver with tiny marcasites around the perimeter. When the shop owner told me the price, the deal was done! The ring was soon riding on my right middle-finger and the little women in the portrait seemed to smile up at me, as pleased as I was at our good fortune.
Finally home from work that night, I completely tore apart my apartment in search of my lost ring. I looked behind the dresser, under the dresser, inside the dresser drawers, retraced my steps from the day before – it seemed to have vanished into thin air. I called my friend AnnaMaria to tell her my distressing news and she recommended I ask Sant’Antonio, the Patron Saint of Lost Things (and also of love and friendship), to help me. I can’t explain it, but the next morning my ring reappeared! I opened the top drawer of my dresser and perched right in the middle of an empty space between my sweaters, was my cameo. It was as if someone had carefully and delicately placed it there. I am not particularly superstitious or religious, but there have been moments in my life that have gone unexplained. I wonder if there could be souls or “guardian angels” in the universe that sometimes answer our prayers. If they do exist, then I hope that someday when you need his services, a prayer to Sant’Antonio will help you to find what you are searching for.
by Toni DeBella