A Silver-gilt flagon, Hispanic or Italian, first half of the 16th century
ovoid body set with two female portrait medallions amid grotesques, skulls, armour, helmet and theatrical masks, similar embellishment to the shoulder from which issue the elephant's head and claw handle and the winged monster term spout, the cylindrical neck chased with a young child, a man with eagle's face and cloven feet, a drum on his back, two winged cherubs and a naked man with skeleton head, hinged lid with further masks below the baluster finial, leaf and hoof decorated pedestal foot, engraved underneath with royal cypher F and numbered N 26, unmarked
Dom Fernando II (1816-1885) King of Portugal
Then by descent to a European princely family
Exposição Retrospectiva de Arte Ornamental Portugueza e Hespanhola, Lisbon, 1882, SALA F (Sala de Sua Majestade El- Rei o Senhor D. Fernando II e da Exellentissima Senhora Condessa d´Edla), no. 23 as "Gomil ....A aza e o bico representam chymeras. Bojo ornado de Medalhões e figuras. Seculo XVI", Illus. Fig 13
The gothic F royal cypher is that of the King of Portugal, Dom Fernando II, who kept the flagon in his study at the Palacio das Necessidades, in Lisbon as a photograph of 1885 shows (see Fig. 1). It is recorded in the inventory taken after his death no. 2386 as follows:
"Um jarro cum prato de prata dourada, trabalho italaiono epoca da Renascenca do seculo 16o maracados com os numeros dois mil cento e cincoenta e oito e dois mil cinto e concoenta e nove"1
It is not known what the inventory number on its foot refers to, but the script appears to be from an earlier date than the cypher. The jug can be compared to an item in the Museo de Antiguades, Lisbon, inv. 355. This latter piece is catalogued as a 16th Century Italian salt and came to the museum from the Convent of S. Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, a collection point for items from the religeous orders after their dissolution in 1834. It was therefore probably not in itself the origin of the piece. Dom Fernando was involved with this convent, reorganising the tombs of the Kings of the House of Braganza and it seems likely that he acquired the flagon, together with other similar pieces, at this time (see introduction). The salt has not been currently researched by the Museo Antiquades, but an inspection reveals enough features in common to suppose that the two items came from the same workshop. Amonst these similarities, their stems, that part between ovoid body and foot, are almost identical. On the flagon this stem is of a slightly lighter coloured gilding than the rest of it, which has raised the possibility that it was not made at the same time. However the coincidence of the jug and salt each having associated stems of the same type makes this unlikley.
When the flagon was exhibited in 1882 it was presented with its accompanying dish or basin ` correspondente ao prato no. 22. Both were illustrated (see Fig. 2 and Fig. 1 of lot II). Whether this dish/basin was actually made to go with the flagon as a unit is open to question, but there is little doubt that they are related as the flagon is related to the salt. Although of not quite the same order the similarity of feel and ornament can also be found on the dish, lot II in this sale, which has the same recorded provenance from the 19th Century as the flagon. It seems likely therefore that a group of silver, comprising the museum salt, this flagon with its basin exhibited in 1882 and possibly the dish form a unit, starting from the same workshop when they were made in the 16th Century and possibly part of the same order.
The type of grotesque ornament found on this flagon first re-appeared in Italy at the end of the 15th Century, inspired by the wall paintings discovered on Nero's palace the Domus Aurea around 1480. A wall painting in the cathedral of Orvieto executed between 1499-1505 depicts the young philosopher Epedocles staring in fascination at panels of these disjointed grotesques2, displaying `a frisson of delight in a peculiar kind of beauty'. Although the ornament, `seems at first sight to consort awkardly with the more familiar taste for ideal beauty..it was part of the court artist's function to produce oddities..'3 The taste for it spread widely throughout the low countries, Spain, Portugal and Germany. A similar creature that makes up the flagon's spout can be found in a print by the Dutch artist Lucas van der Leyden of circa 1528 (Fig. 3) and a Spanish jug of open form, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London catalogued as Toledo or Cuenca? circa 1530, has ornamental features in common.4
1 Arquivo Distrital de Lisboa, Inventário orfanológico de D. Fernando II , 1886, PT/ADLSB/JUD/TCLSB/B-X/001/00001-1.
2 Alain Gruber et al., l'art décoratif en Europe, Paris, 1993, p. 272
3 John Shearman, Mannerism, London, 1967, pp 156
4 Charles Oman, The Golden Age of Hispanic Silver, fig. 142