Romanians can be proud with their generous history, the ancient objects being, most of the times, the testimony of the values that honour us. Such an extremely important artefact and with a remarkable historical significance is Romania’s Great Cameo, an extremely rare work of art, today being found in the collection of the Romanian Academy Library, thanks to the admirable donation of the engineer Constantin Orghidan, a world known numismatist collector.
The Romanian Matrix offers you below the story of this cameo – a work classified as antique monument, as well as the story of its distinguished donor, Constantin Orghidan.
Romania’s Great Cameo delighted the eyes of the public following the famous donation of the engineer Constantin Orghidan, in 1944. This engineer (1874 – 1944), to whom our country owes the honour of holding rare pieces, came from a family of Macedonian merchants. Although he followed the path of real sciences, Orghidan was also concerned about history, philosophy and archaeology, being a wonderful example of entrepreneur who understands and appreciates the importance of the Romanian culture. Moreover, one that donates his collection, a lifetime passion, for study and public exhibition.
Constantin Orghidan, the greatest Romanian collector
Orghidan was a person with a fabulous destiny, being the greatest numismatist collector of our country, explained a researcher of the Romanian Academy when asked by the Romanian Matrix. One of the richest men of Romania in the 20s, with an extremely vast knowledge, the businessman afforded to collect any rare piece, anytime, at any price. That is why, throughout life, Orghidan gathered an extremely valuable collection of gold and silver Byzantine coins and not only.
According to the same source, Orghidan was so popular for his important purchases, that the Western auction houses sent him to Bucharest, beforehand, the catalogues with the pieces that were about to be sold, and the collector had to evaluate the quality of the catalogues, but also to express his wish – if anything was of interest to him – to purchase a piece before being subjected to the public “duel” of the auction.
Thanks to Constantin Orghidan’s great contribution to the Romanian thesaurus, his grave, located in Otelu Rosu – former Ferdinand -, in Caras-Severin County, has been sacredly cared for, for almost 80 years. In recognition of this quality, a special epitaph was written on his gravestone: “grave of historical significance”.
The Romanian Academy Library received from Constantin Orghidan about 10.000 (!) valuable artefacts gathered by the entrepreneur during his life, donated to this institution in the year of his death, in 1944. Due to his praiseworthy gesture – almost inconceivable nowadays -, Romanians can also learn about their past through numismatics.
The “Star” of the Orghidan collection, Romania’s Great Cameo
The most spectacular and famous piece of the donated collection is represented by Romania’s Great Cameo (possibly dating from the 4th century A.D.), the third in measure in the world, according to the Romanian Academy Library.
The cameo is composed of polychrome sardonyx (it has shades of brown, violet-brown, green-brown, white and reddish-white) and represents the veneration of an imperial couple. The representative of the Romanian Academy Library believes that, originally, the piece of art was painted, as many other cameos in the world were at that time. The dimensions of the spectacular piece are quite rare in case of similar artefacts – 17,5 cm × 13,6 cm × 13,6 cm and a weight of 905 grams.
Romania’s Great Cameo depicts two eagles with the wings spread, holding in their claws a garland of leaves and fruits.
These two birds bear the statues of the two imperial spouses, most likely Iulian the Apostate (331 – 363 A.D.) and Flavia Helena, the sister of Constantius II. The two of them got married in 355, when Iulian the Apostate (the last pagan Roman emperor) was invested as Cesar. The fact that the empress is represented in this piece, it means that she died before her husband and that the latter did not remarry.
Actually, the identity of the illustrated characters varies from one historian to another, but the scholar Mihai Gramatopol (the one who began the study of the Numismatic Cabinet Collection of the Romanian Academy Library in 1966) offers solid and well-argued explanations concerning the identity of the couple, punctually removing the interpretations of the other researchers, they themselves being uncertain of their own assessments.
Furthermore, we notice that between the two imperial statues depicted in this piece, we have Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and rightful war, here wearing the helmet, the lance and the shield.
Romania’s Great Cameo amazes through its unusual character of aesthetics and it is a true testimony of the Roman art, with echoes in the Romanian history. The piece is, in the same time, the real proof of the fact that there have been special people, passionate collectors who made from their support of culture a duty of honour.
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