F. Weiss, 'Bejewelled fur tippets and the Palatine Fashion', Costume, 4, 1970; R. Distelberger, 'Die Sarachi-Werkstatt und Annibale Fontana', Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, 71, 1975, pp. 95-164; A. Somers-Cocks and C.Truman, Renaissance Jewels, Gold Boxes and Objets de Vertu, 1984, pp. 69-70; T. Sherill, 'Fleas, Fur, and Fashion: Zibellini as Luxury Accessories of the Renaissance', in R. Netherton and G. R. Owen-Crocker (eds), Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol II, 2006, pp.121-150; D. Scarisbrick et al, Brilliant Europe: Jewels from European Courts, exh. cat., Brussels, 2007, pp.87-8; S. Cassani (ed.), La Collezione Farnese. Le arti decorative, cat. Museo e Gallerie Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, 1996, pp. 179-180, no. 6.76; R. Distelberger, Die Kunst des Steinschnitts, exh. cat., KHM, Vienna, 2002-3, pp. 93-4; Le Bain et le Mirror, exh. cat. Musée de Cluny, Paris, 2009, p. 318, no. Ec 79a-b; D. Scarisbrick, 'Courtly Magnificence: the Jewels of Marguerite of Austria (1522-1588)' [publication forthcoming]
Inventories and correspondence of Isabella d'Este (1515/16), Lucrezia Borgia (1516), Isabella of Portugal (1529), Henry VIII (1547), and Phillip II (1559) all include references to marten's heads. Mary Queen of Scots (1561) owned a rock crystal marten's head and recent research by Diana Scarisbrick has revealed another in the collection of Margaret of Parma, a member of the Farnese family. The great masters of crystal carving of this period were the Saracchi brothers, based in Milan, who served the grandest European courts and were evidently responsible for the present marten's head. A most interesting reflection upon the status of the rock crystal marten's heads and the esteem in which the Saracchi brothers were held, is contained in correspondence from the brothers to their future patron, Albrecht V of Bavaria in 1573 which stated: "And I will also make small things such as pendants, pine cones, acorns, belts, zibellino heads, ... and other things like the samples I sent you".
Both the crystal heads in the Farnese collection, one of which may well be the one discovered in the inventory of Margaret of Parma, compare very well with the present example and are each ascribed to the Saracchi brothers. A further important comparison is the 'Joseph' ewer in the Schatzkammer, Munich, supplied by the Saracchi brothers to Albrecht of Bavaria in 1579 and whose cover is carved with a lion incorporating garnet eyes (such as in the present zibellino). The expressive, fluid carving of the lion's head and the rendering of the fur compares closely to this marten's head, as also do the characteristic delicate beaded scrolls which decorate the rim of the ewer and which also appear below the eyes of the marten's head.
In the mid-18th Century there was a taste for fine zoomorphic lapidary carvings to serve as snuff boxes. Whilst the fashion for marten's head fur pieces passed away after the early 1600s, the virtuoso carving of this marten's head remained highly prized, and a fine gold rim and cover mount were added to create a snuff box. In its more recent history, the box formed part of the renowned Rothschild-Rédé collection of zoomorphic boxes and renaissance objet d'art dispersed at Sotheby's, Monaco in 1975. Here it was catalogued as an 18th Century marten's head snuff box, though in an article published very soon afterwards, the early history and rarity of this remarkable courtly object was revealed.
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