Born in Rome, Antonio Berini moved to Milan at a young age where he studied under Giovanni Pichler. He enjoyed the patronage of Count Capara and Count Giovanni Battista Sommariva. An outspoken anti-monarchist, Berini clashed with the Bonapartes when he was asked to carve a portrait of Napoleon, after he declared himself King of Italy in 1805; it was noticed in the cameo that along the emperor’s neck was an incision that looked suspiciously like blood. Because of this, the artist was imprisoned until the end of the coronation festivities. Caroline Murat became Queen of Naples in 1808, and so it is likely that this cameo was produced for a similar celebration as that of Napoleon – although the relationship between artist and subject undoubtedly remained politically charged.
Although prolific during his lifetime, many of Berini’s works are now lost, or are known only through plaster casts or scagliola. Upon the death of Sommariva, 9 gems attributed to Berini were sold in Paris in 1839. A rock crystal intaglio portrait of Emperor Nicholas I from the late 1820s engraved by Berini is in the Hermitage, and a sardonyx cameo of Napoleon circa 1805 carved by Bernini (apparently without any political statement) is in the British Museum (inv. no. 1978/1002.998).