1700-year-old cameo from Batavia unveiled at WA Maritime Museum


A 1700-year-old cameo is unveiled by Ben van den Bercken from the National Museum of Antiquities of Leiden with WA Maritime Museum exhibition curator Corioli Souter. Picture: Matt Jelonek.
A 1700-year-old cameo is unveiled by Ben van den Bercken from the National Museum of Antiquities of Leiden with WA Maritime Museum exhibition curator Corioli Souter. Picture: Matt Jelonek.

A 1700-year-old artefact once owned by emperors and kings has been unveiled at the Maritime Museum, the closest it has been to the Batavia since it was aboard the ship when it wrecked off the WA coast in 1629.

Presented to the Emperor Constantine in 312AD to celebrate his victory at Milvian Bridge, the cameo has been lost to history at least twice, after the death of the emperor and again when the Batavia crashed into the Abrolhos Islands.

The Netherlands’ National Museum of Antiquities engraved gems assistant curator Ben van den Bercken said the cameo had changed hands many times in its life, with owners including the artist Peter Paul Rubens and traders and families through Europe and Asia before again being presented as a gift, this time to Dutch king William I in 1823.

“Rubens had engravings made of the cameo for a book he worked on with an Italian scholar and after that it was shipped to the East Indies as a present to the Mughal Empire but it never got there of course; the Batavia was shipwrecked,” he said.

“Since 1823 it has been in the collection of the royal coin cabinet in The Hague right up until 2004 when it arrived in the collection of the National Museum of Antiquities.

“It’s rare that it leaves The Netherlands. As far as I know in recent history it’s been to Australia twice, to Sydney, but as far as I’m aware it hasn’t been exhibited outside The Netherlands.

“I think this is probably one of the best exhibitions it could go to. The exhibition is a superb setting for this and right now the cameo has never been closer to the wreck of the Batavia.”

The cameo is part of the Travellers and Traders in the Indian Ocean World exhibition, which is at the Maritime Museum until April 23.