This cameo is by sculptor and engraver Benedetto Pistrucci (born in 1783, died in 1855). It shows the French Emperor and military leader Napoleon Bonaparte (born in 1769, died in 1821). It is set into the lid of a circular tortoiseshell box, which is thought to have been used for snuff.
The cameo is based on the Antonio Canova's famously homoerotic, nude sculpture of Napoleon. Canova’s sculpture, 'Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker', stands to this day in the spiral stairwell of Aspley House, which belonged to the Duke of Wellington (born in 1769, died in 1852). Once on display in the Louvre in Paris, it was purchased from Louis XVIII in 1816 by the British government. They gifted it to the Duke of Wellington as a reminder of his famous victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.
Canova (born in 1757, died in 1822) is regarded as the artist who came closest to fulfilling the neoclassical 'Greek ideal' promoted by the homosexual German scholar, Johann Joachim Winckelmann (born in 1717, died in 1768). Winckelmann held up the heroic male nude as the moral and spiritual heart of Greek art. Napoleon himself commissioned Canova to produce the sculpture according to this neoclassical ideal. Canova was renowned for the smooth finish of his nude sculptures, which leant them a unique sensual quality.
Born in Rome, Pistrucci spent most of his working life in London as a designer for the Royal Mint. The cameo was once part of the jeweller and Silversmith, Joseph Mayer's collection. Mayer (born in 1803, died in 1886) sold it along with other Napoleonic miniatures to John Mather of Liverpool. In 1872, Mather gave the collection to Liverpool Museum.