The trick achieved by the present trinkspiel is perfect and surprises today's viewers as much as it did during the Renaissance. As the host poured water into the upper tank of the trinkspiel, wine flowed through small channels into the lower cup. In the presence of bewildered guests, the water miraculously transformed into wine and flowed down the long channel, activating the wheel of the watermill. The impossible seemed real and this elaborated mechanism, via a sophisticated hydraulic system was responsible for this incredible transformation. Prior to the arrival of the guests, the host filled the upper tank with wine, taking care not to go beyond a certain level so that it remained invisible. When poured, the water put pressure on the level of the wine which rose along small canals hidden inside the central axis. Once the wine reached an invisible overflow at the top of the central axis, it flowed inside and up to the lower section via four small jets (see fig. 3).
Hans Maulbrunner, a goldsmith from Weinheim, was the pupil of Hartmann Maulbrunner - probably his father. He became master before 1608 and was active until 1634. A silver-gilt trinkspiel in the shape of a watermill, 1624-1628 also produced by him and very similar to the present piece, though slightly later in date, is in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, (inv. no. M.183-1956, see fig. 1), and a silver-gilt mounted mounted nautilus ewer and its basin from the prestigious Kunstkammer of King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden is in the University of Uppsala, Sweden. A watercolour by FG Solnzew from the first half of the 19th century, precisely depicts a drinking game comparable with the present piece. Made by Melchior Bair, Augsburg, 1626-1630, it shows the piece from different angles (Kremlin Museum, inv. no. Mz-326, see fig. 2). Other comparable drinking games were produced in Nuremberg, Münster, Lübeck, Vienna and Hermannstadt, the latter now part of Romania.
As one of the masterpieces of a Kunstkammer, our trinkspiel - the earliest known example of this type brings together all the qualities sought by connoisseurs from the Renaissance to the present day, including richness of ornament, technical prowess, scientific curiosity and rarity.
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