Rock crystal vessel | Navette en cristal de roche
This lot has been withdrawn
Attributed to Dionysio Miseroni (1607 - 1661)
Bohemian, Prague, 17th century
Rock crystal vessel
5.9 by 13.5cm.; 2¼ by 5¼in.
Attribué à Dionysio Miseroni (1607 - 1661)
Bohême, Prague, XVIIe siècle
Navette en cristal de roche
5,9 x 13,5 cm ; 2 ¼ x 5 ¼ in.
Private collection, United Kingdom.
Attributed to Dionysio Miseroni
This exceptional carved rock crystal vessel can be convincingly attributed to the celebrated Prague-based hardstone carver Dionysio Miseroni (d. 1661), perhaps with the involvement of his son Ferdinand Eusebio Miseroni. It can be associated with two other vessels, one by Dionysio Miseroni, carved circa 1650, and the other by his son Ferdinand Eusebio, executed circa 1671, both of which are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. nos. 1447 and 1487). These two vessels fall under the term groppo which means something that is intertwined or knotted. The present vessel, like the Kunsthistorisches groppo pair, appears to have been conceived purely for its awe-inspiring optical effects.
The vessel shares characteristics with a number of autograph works by Dionysio Miseroni. The distinctive acanthus leaf carved in relief to the underside of the bowl is a feature of a number of Dionysio’s works. Compare, in particular, with the smoky quartz bowl with grape decoration carved by Dionysio circa 1648-1649 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (inv. no. 1345) with its handles formed of leaves adorned with peapod-type drill holes which can also be seen on the sides of the present vessel. A further comparison, both for the acanthus leaves and the fantastical handle is found in a covered smoky quartz bowl also in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (inv. no. 1344), the beak-like handle of which compares with that of the present vessel. Note also the multiple leaves on the lidded vessel made by Dionysio and Ferdinand Eusebio before 1660 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (inv. no. 2341).
The deeply engraved scroll-like volutes and rib-like fluting on the sides of the present vessel bear a notable resemblance to the carving on a citrine quartz vase in the shape of an oil lamp in the Museo del Prado, Madrid (inv. no. O000096), which is believed to date to circa 1600-1630. In 2001 Letizia Arbeteta Mira proposed an attribution for this vase to Dionysio Miseroni, possibly in collaboration with his father Ottavio. However, a later re-examination, in 2016, led her to attribute it solely to Dionysio as an early but assured work. The vase recalls Dionysio’s works from circa 1640–1650 when Dionysio was in his artistic maturity, yet the earlier design of the gold mount argues against such a relatively late date of execution. For the scrolling volutes at the sides of the present vessel, compare with the ewer attributed to the workshop of Ferdinand Eusebio which was formerly in the collection of William Beckford and is today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. 1982.60.138).
Each of the characteristics discussed above illustrate the depth of Dionysio’s imagination and his mastery of the auricular style developed by his father Ottavio under Rudolf II’s patronage. The top of the vessel features a grotesque mask with an elongated auricular moustache that frames the edge of a wide, open mouth, echoing an earlier design seen in the work of Ottavio. Note the similarity of our grotesque’s moustache to that on jade vessel dating to circa 1600 in the shape of an oil lamp carved as a mask on four dolphins, which has been attributed by Rudolf Distelberger to Ottavio in the Museo del Prado, Madrid (inv. no. O000066). Not only is the framing moustache similar, but also the soft quatrefoil of the nose, and the elongated forehead. See also a small citrine bowl in Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. no. 1367) for a similarly abstracted mask, with a nose reminiscent of the one on our vessel. The vessel in the Prado, having been fashioned from opaque jade, features a large raised ‘tongue’ on the inside bottom of the bowl, whereas the present vessel has raised decoration to its underside which, when viewed through its crystalline near-transparent and highly polished wall, can perhaps be read as a smaller protruding tongue, below which is a fantastical beard in the form of the acanthus leaf. Since antiquity acanthus has been synonymous with immortality and it is therefore tempting to contemplate the allegorical intention of such decoration. The open-mouthed grotesque mask has its roots in the 16th century, note for example fireplaces in the Villa della Torre Allegrini in Fumane near Verona (cf. Arbeteta Mira, op. cit., no. 5). The Fumane fireplace that is most like the mask on our vessel and the one in Madrid has been variously described as a ‘sea monster’ and as a ‘unicorn, but one of salvation’ because of the eyes looking up to the heavens.
An important aspect of the present vessel is the inclusion of a rosette or flower motif to the underside, which is characteristic of works by Dionysio Miseroni and also signals that the vessel was conceived as an object of beauty in its own right without a stem or mount, as is the case with the two groppo in Vienna. Such rosettes can be seen on several objects within Dionysio’s autograph and attributed oeuvre where they are frequently found to the underside. The presence of such a rosette on the underside of the foot of the present vessel thus further adds strength to the attribution to Dionysio Miseroni. It also confirms that the present vessel is complete and was conceived without concern for function but purely as an object of wonder and virtuosic brilliance.
The Prague Workshop of the Miseroni
Dionysio Miseroni and his son Ferdinand Eusebio represent the last two generations of the celebrated Miseroni family of hardstone engravers, which was established in Milan in the 16th century by Gasparo (1518-1573) and Girolamo Miseroni (1522-1600) who were themselves descendants of a distinguished line of goldsmiths. Girolamo’s son Giovanni Ambrogio (1551-1617) became head of the workshop in Milan, and was responsible for masterpieces including the Venus and Amour recently acquired from Sotheby’s by the Louvre (inv. no. RFML.OA.2022.6.1). It was Girolamo’s brother Ottavio Miseroni who moved to Prague and, together with Aurelio and Alessandro Miseroni, established a hardstone cutting workshop in Bohemia, with the aim of creating wonders for the kunstkammer of their patron, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Each of the Miseroni brothers, whether operating in Milan and or in Prague, were engaged in supplying the Emperor and other art loving rulers such as the Electors of Saxony and Bavaria and the Grand Duke of Tuscany with these highly sought after vessels designed to express princely magnificence and power. Paulus Rainer has highlighted Ottavio Miseroni’s role, alongside the virtuoso sculptor Adraien de Vries and silversmith Paulus van Vianen, also under Rudolf’s patronage, in creating the baroque auricular style: ‘neither would this development have been possible had Ottavio Miseroni not started to cut hard and brittle agate and jasper in a way that makes his bowls appear to be shaped from a soft material’ (Rainer, op. cit., p. 22). Dionysio Miseroni and his son Ferdinand Eusebio further developed their father’s art under the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II. The present recently discovered rock crystal vessel is an exemplar of their virtuoso approach.
D. Alcouffe, Les Gemmes de la Couronne, Paris, 2001;
R. Distelberger, Die Kunst des Steinschnitts: Prunkgefässe, Kameen und Commessi aus der Kunstkammer, exh. cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 2002;
R. Gennaioli, Le gemme dei Medici al Museo degli Argenti, Cammei e Intagli nelle collezioni di Palazzo Pitti, Florence, 2007;
P. Rainer, Splendour & Power: Imperial Treasures from Vienna, exh. cat. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 2011