Rock-crystal vase (nef)

Milan, Giovanni Battista Metellino
ca. 1685
Rock crystal; gilded copper and silver mountings
11 x 18.2 x 16.4 cm

A vase in the shape of a cup resting on a low foot set with a gilded copper mounting around the foot. With a lanceolate mouth-rim and the body formed by two large gadroons separated by grooves, the forward section, similar to a beak, gives a certain appearance of a ship to this vessel, further highlighted by the inward flange, which widens in what would be the stern and where we may see five holes. These suggest the existence of an upper structure, now lost. The side handles, held by single annular mountings in silver, are shaped as scaly serpents or monstrous fish. The decoration is sparse, composed of four branches of vegetal scrolls with pea pods set near the rim, and insects sprinkled over the smooth surface of the rock crystal. At the base, similar motifs are present.

Due to its formal features this vessel can be attributed to the workshop of Giovanni Battista Metellino, a later artist who worked between the second half of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century and who attracted the attention of Weinholz in 1967. Preparatory drawings for three pieces have survived which after Metellino’s death were given by his heirs to August II the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, who acquired them for his collection, the Grünes Gewölbe of Dresden. Based on similar features, scholar have been attributing to this same workshop pieces acquired before 1724 by other European collectors, as vases of this type are to be found in Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Munich or Florence, among other places. In the case of the Grand Dauphin of France, the inventory drawn up in Versailles in 1689 records numerous entries that may correspond to vases from this workshop. In addition, his father Louis XIV acquire several examples between 1684 and 1701.

Works attributed to Metellino are characterized by a simplified reinterpretation of Renaissance shapes and motifs and an adaptation to the tastes of his time, highlighting the colourless quality of the material and its transparency, interrupted only by small plant motifs (which sometimes seem to be engraved at the rims of the vessels), some figures, and the presence of birds and insects randomly distributed over the surface, possibly engraved so as to mask small imperfections in the rock crystal. The handles, also unique, are inspired by those that decorated vases made in the great workshops of the earlier period. The mounts are modest, most of them being in silver.

From Metellino’s work, some vessels of great size stand out, such as the dolphin-shaped salt cellars in Madrid and the smaller one of Florence, very similar in manufacture, as well as one in Dresden, in addition to some cups with handles, jugs and vessels in the shape of ships such as the present one, featuring a variable number of gadroons and handles of very different shapes. The feature of attaching the handles on a single point, while not exclusive, may be found in works attributed to the Metellino workshop, as is the case with several pieces in the Louvre. One first example, a cup with dolphin handles, is almost identical to a drawing in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, similar to those in Dresden and possibly sent as a catalogue leaf, to offer the vessel for sale. Another example is a cup with handles shaped as winged animals and, finally a third, is a jug with “S”-shaped handles and a floral decoration similar to our present vase, works from the Louvre that Alcouffe dates to around 1685. A cup from the same museum, dated somewhat later, around 1700, and shaped like a ship, is set with handles attached at a single point, similar to another cup in Munich.

Faced with a large number of vessels with similar features, it is necessary to ask if they are all made in the same workshop or rather correspond to a change of fashion and a certain uniformity of style in the late Milanese workshops, although the piece here under discussion seem to fit the general features of the works attributed to this artist.


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