CAMEO, a term of doubtful origin, applied in the first instance to engraved work executed in relief on hard or precious stones. It is also applied to imitations of such stones in glass, called "pastes," or on the shells of molluscous animals. A cameo is therefore the converse of an intaglio, which consists of an incised or sunk engraving in the same class of materials. For the history of this branch of art, and for an account of some of its most remarkable examples, see Gem.
The origin of the word is doubtful and has been a matter of copious controversy. The New English Dictionary quotes its use in a Sarum inventory of 1222, "lapis unus cameu" and "magnus camehu." The word is in current use in the 13th century. Thus Matthew Paris, in his Life of Abbot Leofric of St Albans, in the Abbatum S. Albani Vitae, says: "retentis quibusdam nobilibus lapidibus insculptis, quos camaeos vulgariter appellamus." In variant forms the word has found its way into most languages, e.g. Latin, camahutus, camahelus, camaynus; Italian, chammeo, chameo; French, camahieu, chemahou, camaut, camaieu. The following may be mentioned among the derivations that have been proposed: - von Hammer: camaut, the hump of a camel; Littré and others: camateum, an assumed Low Latin form from and ; Chabouillet and Babelon: , treasures, connecting the word in particular with the dispersion of treasures from Constantinople, in 1204; King: Arabic camea, an amulet.
For a bibliography of the question, see Babelon, Cat. des Camées ... de la Bibliothèque Nationale, p. iv.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)