Cup, Vulcan’s Forge

WB.98     1566–1611 • Silver-gilt • tazza

The god Vulcan forges wings for Cupid as Venus and Cupid watch. The scene is exquisitely detailed. It copies a relief of around 1570, attributed to Hans Jamnitzer, a goldsmith of Nuremberg. Baron Ferdinand bought this cup on the Island of Patmos while on a cruise on his yacht, the Rona, in January 1898.

Curator's Description

Tazza, silver-gilt. Embossed, engraved and chased. Depicts Venus and Cupid at Vulcan’s forge within landscape of trees, water and buildings. Venus stands with Cupid watching Vulcan sitting at anvil with a hammer in his raised left hand, a tool for the anvil in his right. Behind him is a brick-built forge stoked by another figure. A man stands by holding a bellows, and an attendant raises a sledge-hammer. Tools lie on the ground along with Cupid’s bow and arrow. The scene is surrounded by an embossed and engraved design representing a laurel wreath. Shallow bowl with upward-curving lip engraved on inside with foliate pattern. Two-tiered foot richly ornamented in relief with fruit on upper level and cherub heads with floral sprays on lower. Cast stem in ornate baluster form comprising three ‘birds’ with projecting eagle heads and female bodies, between which alternate three lion-masks in high relief. Marked.

This object was collected and bequeathed to the British Museum by Ferdinand Anselm Rothschild.

How big is it?

78.2 cm wide, 12.5 cm high, 78.2 cm deep, and it weighs 443g

Detailed Curatorial Notes

Text from Tait 1988:-

'Origin: Augsburg; last quarter of 16th century; mark of a member of the Spitzmacher family of goldsmiths, perhaps Salomon II Spitzmacher (master 1566, died 1611).


(i) Assay mark for Augsburg, 1567-85 and probably later (R3 125) or, perhaps, Seling 30 (1600-1615).

(ii) The chevron (?) within a shield punch of a member of the Spitzmacher family, perhaps Salomon II Spitzmacher (master by 1566, died 1611); (R3 463; Seling 773).

These two marks are punched close together on the foot-rim.

Provenance: Purchased in 1898 by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, MP, on the island of Patmos shortly before his sudden death on 17 December that year at Waddesdon Manor. Through the kindness of Mrs James de Rothschild, the family records of this voyage have been checked, and though they confirm that the ‘Rona’, Baron Ferdinand's yacht, was sailing in that part of the eastern Mediterranean throughout January 1898, there is no specific reference to the discovery of this tazza on the island of Patmos or to its earlier history.

Commentary: For information on the tazza as a popular Renaissance form of silver plate see WB.97. The design of the stem and foot on this tazza, although difficult to parallel in detail, is typical of the late sixteenth-century fashionable products of the leading goldsmiths in both Augsburg and Nuremberg. Indeed the three sets, each of twelve tazze, by Paul Hübner of Augsburg, which had been purchased in 1590 by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau of Salzburg (1587-1612) and are now preserved in the Medici Collection in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence (see K. Rossacher, ‘Der Schatz des Erzstiftes Salzburg’, Salzburg, 1966, pp. 142-5, with illus.), have a foot and stem of the same basic elements of design: the foot is divided into two, a lower and an upper level, although in detail it does not correspond with the Waddesdon Bequest tazza; similarly, the baluster form of the stem is composed of three birds alternating with masks - the birds' heads, while projecting slightly less, are also fully executed in the round.

A stem composed of three storks (?) with their heads projecting upwards in the same way as on this tazza can be found on a Nuremberg cup (half of a double-cup) by Hans Kellner (master 1582), which is part of the Ella Conradty Bequest to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg (see ‘Wenzel Jamnitzer und die Nürnberger Goldschmiedekunst 1500-1700’, exh. cat., Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, 1985, p. 257, no. 79, with illus.). Similarly, the stem composed of three masks alternating with three female figures to form a baluster-shaped element can be seen on the fully documented Landschadenbundbecher, a gilt and enamelled standing covered cup which was commissioned by the Bavarian ducal Court from an Augsburg goldsmith as a wedding gift in 1571 to the Archduke Karl von Steiermark; subsequently it was given by the Archduke Ferdinand to the people of Styria and is now preserved in the Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz (see J. F. Hayward, ‘Virtuoso Goldsmiths and the Triumphs of Mannerism 1540-1620’, Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, London, 1976, p. 381, pl. 462). By conflating the main elements of these two popular stem designs, the goldsmith of this tazza has provided a highly sophisticated Mannerist solution. Only the ring of engraved cresting (above the lion-masks) seems crudely amateur and out of fashion.

The embossing and chasing of the scene at Vulcan's Forge is of the highest quality. The scene is identical with the well-known German Renaissance plaquette of 1573 by the unidentified monogrammist AZ (see I. Weber, ‘Deutsche, Niederländische und Französische Renaissanceplaketten 1500-1650’, Munich, 1975, pp. 240-1, no. 475, pl. 139). Dr Weber has attributed the plaquette to a workshop in southern Germany and has recorded nineteen locations (from Leningrad in the east to Cleveland in the west) where examples cast in lead are preserved but only three locations for bronze examples (Boston Museum of Fine Arts and two private collections in Europe). The source for the scene has been traced back to a print by the Antwerp engraver, Cornelius Bos, which is dated 1546 and is after a painting of 1536 by Marten van Heemskerck made for the town hall of Haarlem and now preserved in the National Gallery, Prague (see S. Schéle, ‘Cornelis Bos: a study of the origins of the Netherlands grotesque’, Stockholm, 1965, pp. 130-1, no. 51, pl. 17, where it is pointed out that there are a number of very minor differences between the two but that, because Bos's print has come out in reverse, all the men have become left-handed). The inspiration for the composition is, ultimately, the fresco by Baldassare Peruzzi (c. 1530) in the Sala delle Prospettive, Farnesina, Rome (see I. M. Veldman, ‘Maarten van Heemskerck and Dutch Humanism in the sixteenth century’, Amsterdam, 1977, pp. 21-30, figs 4-5, 9-10; also Rainald Grosshans, ‘Maarten van Heemskerck’, Berlin, 1980, pp. 119-24, no. 21, pls 22-3, 176, 178). In 1920 Berliner was the first to publish a detailed study of the lead example (in a Munich private collection) that was inscribed AZ 1573, and to suggest a connection with the Augsburg goldsmith Augustin Vervost, though his date of birth is now known to be too late (see R. Berliner, Der Goldschmied AZ: 1573, in ‘Der Kunstwanderer’, vol. II,1920-1, pp. 10 ff). For a further discussion of this signed and dated lead example, see Klaus Pechstein, Plaketten und ihre Verwendung in der Goldschmiederwerkstatt, ‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, pp. 420 ff, nos 566-7, with illus. of one of the two lead examples of the Vulcan's forge plaquette preserved in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum and now associated with the workshop of Hans Jamnitzer, son of Wenzel, and dated “um 1570-80”. Hans Jamnitzer's most similar type of relief roundel, also executed in silver, is dated 1575; it depicts the Choice of Paris (based on a print by Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael) and is inscribed with the initial H; it has always been preserved in the Wittelsbachs' Schatzkammer in Munich (see H. Brunner, ‘Schatzkammer der Residenz München’, 3rd edn of the Catalogue, Munich, 1970, no. 615, where a complete bibliography is given and the Munich Inventories of 1598, 1635 and 1747 are quoted, and, most importantly, an earlier attribution to “Augsburg um 1590, wahrscheinlich von Paul Hübner” is rejected in favour of “Nürnberg 1575, Hans Jamnitzer zugeschrieben”; also Pechstein in ‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, p. 239, no. 44, with illus.).

The excellently preserved plaquette of Vulcan's forge illustrated by Dr Weber (Weber 1975, no. 475, pl. 139) compares very closely with the Waddesdon Bequest example, except for a few details - such as the flowers and plants in the foreground, the length of Cupid's quiver, the position of the large tree behind the young man next to the chimney of the forge, and the building in the distance above his head (to the left of the tall spire) - all these kinds of detail are different and indicate that the bowl was freely worked by the goldsmith. However, in one major respect these two versions differ from the lead example in Nuremberg, which was illustrated by Klaus Pechstein (in ‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, p. 433): on the lead example, the attendant figure standing in the foreground has been enlarged so that there is less space between him and the group of Venus and Cupid and, similarly, his left arm and chest obscure the view of the attendant facing him on the opposite side of the anvil, so that half his face and left shoulder are hidden. It is clear that the tazza bowl was not embossed by a goldsmith copying the lead cast version (in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum).

Apart from Baron Ferdinand's discovery of this silver-gilt example on the island of Patmos in 1898, only one other silver example of Vulcan's forge has been recorded and is now in a public collection. It is the unmarked silver-gilt tazza in the Louvre (see Marquet de Vasselot, ‘Catalogue sommaire de I'orfèvrerie, de I'émaillerie et de gemmes du moyen âge au XVIIe siècle’, Paris, 1914, no. 335 where it is attributed to “art espagnol (?), XVI S”). As stated in Read 1902, the Louvre's tazza has a border and a stem that differ completely from the Waddesdon Bequest example but, both in Read 1902 and Dalton 1927, it was incorrectly reported that the Louvre's example bore the scene of Vulcan's forge in reverse. It is identical, except in some minor respects, such as the omission of the string on Cupid's bow and the lines of the brickwork of the forge and chimney; secondly, both the nude young man (on the extreme left) and the nude bearded man (in the centre, with his hammer on the anvil itself) are depicted with fig-leaves. The use of the latter is a typical modification associated primarily with the nineteenth century. However, this tazza was acquired by the Louvre in 1837 from a M. Bouquet as coming from Toledo in Spain but as being a Florentine work of the sixteenth century. (Information very kindly communicated by Daniel Alcouffe, conservateur en chef du Département des Objets d'Art.)

The relief of Vulcan's forge on the Louvre's tazza is of poor quality but even so contrasts with the inferior workmanship of the border, the stem and the foot. The border is very simply decorated with a narrow band of egg-and-dart and pounced (pointillé) scrollwork; the stem, which is crudely soldered on to the underside, comprises a nude standing youthful figure of Bacchus (?) and a basket of fruit resting (like a capital on a column) on top of his head, which is itself covered in grapes and other fruits, hiding his hair completely. Significantly, the Bacchus (?) figure is also depicted with a fig-leaf. The foot is ornamented in the late sixteenth-century style with strapwork linking the three oval reliefs of reclining figures, but the work lacks distinction. In profile, the tazza itself seems unusually shallow. Consequently, the date and origin of this tazza are seriously in doubt and, although the relief of Vulcan's forge is copied directly from the German Renaissance prototype, it seems probable that the Spanish origin of this tazza proposed by Marquet de Vasselot is correct but that a later date - perhaps early nineteenth century - seems the most acceptable explanation.

Although the bowl of the Waddesdon Bequest tazza may be embossed and chased to a very high standard, and the relief roundel of Vulcan's forge may perhaps be associated with the work of Hans Jamnitzer, the foot of this tazza (if it is, indeed, original to the bowl) bears a partly conjectural example of the punch-mark of a German goldsmith who had not been identified by Marc Rosenberg in 1922. However, he has recently been recognised by Dr Seling as a member of an Augsburg family of goldsmiths named Spitzmacher; Salomon II Spitzmacher (master by 1566, died 1611) is credited with a very similar punch (see H. Seling, ‘Die Kunst de Augsburger Goldschmiede 1529-1868’ 3 vols., Munich, 1980, p. 57, no. 774). The only example of the work of Salomon II Spitzmacher mentioned by Dr Seling is a silver-gilt Humpen (H. 13 cm), which is not illustrated and is in an unnamed private collection; Dr Seling has closely dated it: “um 1580-1585”.

A similar dating for this tazza bowl now seems likely, though whether an attribution of this Vulcan's forge roundel to Hans Jamnitzer (master 1563) can be sustained will depend on further research. Certainly, it is widely acknowledged that tazze of this kind were frequently the work of more than one goldsmith, and that the goldsmith's punch-mark on the foot of the tazza might give no indication of the identity of the talented master who had embossed and chased the roundel.


  • Charles Hercules Read, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest: Catalogue of the Works of Art bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898’, London, 1902, no. 98
  • Marc Rosenberg, ‘Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen’, 3rd edn, Frankfurt, vol. I, 1922, p. 76 (R3 463)
  • O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 98
  • I. Weber, ‘Deutsche, Niederländische und Französische Renaissanceplaketten 1500-1650’, Munich, 1975, p. 240, no. 475
  • H. Seling, ‘Die Kunst de Augsburger Goldschmiede 1529-1868’ 3 vols., Munich, 1980, p. 67, no. 773 (a).'
  • Hugh Tait, 'Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum, II : The Silver Plate', British Museum, London, 1988, no. 36, figs. 179-183
  • Jeremy Warren, 'Medieval and Renaissance sculpture : a catalogue of the collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford', Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2014, p.988
  • Dora Thornton, 'A Rothschild Renaissance: Treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest', British Museum, London, 2015, pp.46-47.

    For a new assessment of the plaquette used as a source for the tazza see Warren 2014 (in bibliography).

  • References

    1. Read 1902: Read, Charles Hercules, The Waddesdon Bequest. Catalogue of the Works of Art Bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898, London, BMP, 1902
    2. Dalton 1927: Dalton, Ormonde Maddock, The Waddesdon Bequest : jewels, plate, and other works of art bequeathed by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild., London, BMP, 1927
    3. Tait 1988: Tait, Hugh, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum; II The Silver Plate, London, BMP, 1988

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