Scent vase

WB.230     Cameos: 1500–1600, mounts 1825–75 • Shell cameos, silver-gilt mounts • gunpowder-flask cameo perfume-flask

Curator's Description

Powder-flask; formed of two cameos on shell in silver-gilt mount; front cameo: very convex, carved with two groups of three busts under arches with two cornucopiae above; those on left represent women, men on right; cameo on back in white shell represents bearded man with laurel wreath; mounts with two dragons on sides, small cap cover, three female monsters as feet.

This object was previously owned by Andrew Fountaine, and collected and bequeathed to the British Museum by Ferdinand Anselm Rothschild.

How big is it?

8.5 cm wide, 13 cm high, 5 cm deep, and it weighs 186g

Detailed Curatorial Notes

Text from Tait 1991a:-


(i) Shell cameos: French, or perhaps German, second quarter of 16th century.

(ii) Silver-gilt mounts: unmarked; probably remounted in Paris during mid-19th century.

Marks: No punch-marks have been struck on this piece.

Provenance: None is recorded.

Commentary: In Read 1902, Dalton 1915 and Dalton 1927, the shell cameo carvings on this flask were attributed to a sixteenth-century Italian workshop. Although present-day scholarship is still agreed that the distinctive group to which these two cameos belong can be dated to the sixteenth century, there is now little support for an Italian attribution. Instead, most scholars have preferred, until recently, to regard them as a continuation of the early sixteenth-century French shell cameo carvings typified by the plaques discussed in relation to WB.118; thus, for example, it was stated that the Munich flask “is certainly of French origin. That such carved shells were exported from France is proved by the presence in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, of a similar one with mounts struck with the Vienna mark” (J. F. Hayward, ‘Virtuoso Goldsmiths and the Triumphs of Mannerism 1540-1620’, Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, London, 1976, p. 92); both the Munich and Vienna examples are fully discussed below.

The evidence of shell cameo carving in France during the late Gothic period has been discussed in relation to WB.118, in which seventeen cameos in the Waddesdon Bequest have been attributed to a Paris workshop active at the end of the fifteenth century and during the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Furthermore, it was recognised that there was probably a growing policy to sell these shell cameos abroad, especially to workshops in Germany where they would be incorporated within specially made Schatzkammer objects of precious metal - devotional portable altars, secular standing covered cups and, on at least one occasion, a nef - or ship-salt. Fortunately, there is sound documentary evidence that at least two such masterpieces had been fashioned for that great patron and collector Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg before 1526, for they were listed and illustrated in the famous 'Hallesche Heiltumbuch' of 1526-7, an illuminated codex recording the great collection at Halle (P. M. Halm and R. Berliner, ‘Das Hallesche Heiltum’, Berlin, 1931, p. 60, no. 286, pl. 176, and p. 66, no. 339, pl. 180). Furthermore, the second of these two - known as the 'Reliquary of Halle' - has been restored and is in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich. In addition, it was recognised that a third well-documented silver-gilt example has been preserved in the Treasury of the Basilica of St Antonio, Padua; it is the standing covered cup encrusted with similar French shell cameos (B. Gonzati, ‘Il Santuario delle Reliquie ossia il Tessoro della Basilica di S. Antonio’, Padua, 1851, pp. 45-7, no. LIV). Stylistically, the goldsmiths' work of the Padua example and of several other German secular pieces can be associated with a very distinctive Düreresque phase in Nuremberg goldsmiths' work, a leading exponent of which is thought to have been Ludwig Krug, the second son of a Nuremberg goldsmith. Having pursued various skills and activities, such as printmaking, Ludwig Krug finally became a goldsmith when he was over thirty years old in 1522. He was to die ten years later, in 1532, but in that period he is generally thought to have made those few extant silver vessels in the Nuremberg style which are mounted with shell cameos, although none bears his mark.

Furthermore, the suggestion that Krug himself may have carved shell cameos seems not unreasonable because the contemporary Nuremberg mathematician Johann Neudorfer, writing about Nuremberg craftsmen and artists up to 1546-7, records not only that Ludwig Krug was a “carver in stone, cameo and iron” but also that there was another cameo carver in the city named Nicolaus Glockendon (see McCrory 1988, p. 414, n. 17). If, therefore, Nuremberg had become by 1530 a centre where, following the French fashion, shell cameos were being carved, principally for setting in metal, whether standing-cups, powder-flasks, caskets or similar luxury objects, then a percentage of the known examples may indeed have had a Nuremberg origin. Certainly, those few strikingly different shell cameos - as exemplified by the Satyr Family (after Dürer) and Abundance Surprised (in the Bargello, Florence, inv. no. c. 1293-4) - must be regarded as of German (Nuremberg?) origin (see Julia Kagan, ‘Soobshcheniia Gosudarstrennogo Ermitazha’, vol. 34, Leningrad, 1972, pp. 42-6, figs 1-4; McCrory 1988, pp. 418-19, figs 2-3 in col. and figs 12-14; M. Casarosa Guadagni, ‘Cammei in conchiglia del Rinascimento’, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, 1988, pp. 36-41, nos 9-10, illus.). Like these, the two unmounted powder-flask cameos carved with scenes of Diana and Actaeon (Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 950, 1855) seem very Germanic in style and, with an undisturbed history going back to 1854, it is interesting to note that they are backed with a pitchlike substance, the dark colour of which shows through the thinly carved white shell. Their 'prettiness' is suspect and their age questionable.

The Waddesdon Bequest powder-flask cameos are, however, closely related to a small but equally distinctive group, some of which were simultaneously published in 1988 as “German (?)” (McCrory 1988, pp. 420-3, figs 18-24) and from “Francia o Germania” (Casarosa Guadagni 1988, pp. 28-31, cat. nos 5-6, and pp. 34-5, cat. no. 8). The former attribution of this group to a French workshop needs, therefore, to be reassessed in the light of the evidence provided by the small group of extant examples.

(i) The Vienna flask: Preserved in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. no. 409 (see Kris 1927, p. 169, no. 394, pl. 55, front view and reverse; also O. E. Paget, Mollusken im Gebrauch der Völker, ‘Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungem in Wien’, LXXVII (new series XLI), 1981, p. 31, fig. no), H. 12 cm, w. 10 cm. It is similarly constructed with two large shell cameos, one flat and carved with a helmeted bust in profile with a very full beard, the other convex and carved with a double arch in which a helmeted male and a female bust vis à vis in profile are shown on either side of the central pillar; a third, very small, flat, semicircular shell cameo, carved with two entwined cornucopiae, fills a space in the base (between the silver-gilt foot and the strap-mount). The three shells are fitted over a silver liner designed to correspond with their unusual shapes; a lightly engraved, simple silver-gilt strap-mount covers the main seam where the shells abut each other.

The silver-gilt mounts are remarkably plain and functional: the upper, having a serrated 'claw' border below the broad neck, is fitted with a separate low-domed cover with a tiny finial and two 'hinge' attachments for the ends of the lightly engraved strap-mounts; the foot is unusual, having three lion-feet attached to a small circular foot-ring, inside which is a six-petalled plate (with central screw attachment). The latter plate bears the punch-mark for Vienna (R37851) and the maker's mark, DF, within an oval shield. This pair of marks is also struck on the neck and on the cover. This form of the Vienna punch-mark was in use only in the sixteenth century, but because very few pieces of silver-plate from the sixteenth-century Vienna workshops have survived, it is virtually impossible to establish a coherent chronological story of the goldsmiths' craft in that city or to find any means of identifying the makers of the handful of extant works dating from the Renaissance.

Nevertheless, the evidence of this Vienna flask is most important, especially as it is the best-documented piece in the group. It was described in the Hapsburg Schatzkammer Inventory of 1750 (p. 517, no. 68) and probably entered the Hapsburg collections at a much earlier date. In theory, it could have been both carved and mounted in Ludwig Krug's Nuremberg workshop and, having reached Vienna, it could have been given a replacement set of silver-gilt mounts by a Viennese goldsmith later in the sixteenth century. However, as the mounts are very plain and simple, this seems highly improbable, whereas the former attribution of the cameos to France (see Kris 1927, p. 169, where they were described as “Französisch (?), 16 Jahrhundert”) both recognises the long-established reputation of the French in this particular field of cameo carving and the probable widespread distribution of these cameos to major centres in Europe, where the local goldsmiths could mount them according to the tastes of their clientele. Therefore, the evidence of the Vienna flask seems to support the former view that its cameos were carved in France.

(ii) The Munich flask: Acquired by the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, at some unrecorded date in the nineteenth century (inv. no. R. 246; R. Berliner, Französische Muschelschnitte zugleich ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Säkularisation in Bayern, ‘Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst’, N.F., vol. I, 1924, pp. 48-9, fig. 9); also Hayward 1976, pp. 91-2, pl. 369, where its silver-gilt mounts are stated to be unmarked but “the flask is certainly French and dates from a period that is otherwise very inadequately represented. . .mid-16thcentury”). H. 20.7 cm.

This flask, which is of a very comparable size to the Vienna flask, is similarly constructed with two shell cameos - one flat and one convex. Although the cameo carving is also in low relief, it is carved with completely different, but highly fashionable, Renaissance subjects: a marine triumph with a triton blowing a shell-trumpet, and a marine battle with seahorses, etc. The unknown goldsmith who made the silver-gilt mounts raised the flask on a spreading oval base and designed the rim-mount so that it narrows to a tall, cylindrical, capped pouring spout. In Hayward 1976 the mounts, described as bearing the triple interlaced cs associated with Catherine de' Medici, Queen Consort of Henri II (died 1559), were said to be “roughly chased” and to be “cast with roughly finished female terms” (applied to the strap-mounts on either side); consequently it was assumed that they could not have been made for the Queen herself but bore her device of the triple cs out of loyalty - a feature found on some other luxury objects, like the St Porchaire pottery of Henry II's reign. Neither the genuineness of the mounts nor the reference to Catherine de' Medici is questioned in the most recent French publication on this subject - indeed, this flask is quoted as providing reliable evidence of the engraving of these shell cameos in France at that period (see E. Veljovic, in ‘Vrai ou Faux? Copier, imitier, falsifier’, exh. cat., Cabinet des Médailles et Antiques, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, 1988, p. 94).

However, the author's recent comparative study of the Munich flask has revealed reasons for doubting the authenticity of the mounts. The decoration is cast and it is identical with that on the Berlin flask, which in 1924 was published by Rudolf Berliner as an electrotype copy ('ein Galvano') of the Munich mounts (discussed below).

(iii) The Berlin flask: Purchased in 1879 from a private owner without any documentation by the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin (inv. no. 79, 1100; see Berliner, op. cit, p. 49, fig. 10; McCrory 1988, p. 422, fig. 23). This flask, which has only one shell cameo and a plain, flat, polished silver plate in place of the flat cameo carving on the reverse, is fitted with silver-gilt mounts of identical design to those on the Munich flask. Not only is the oval spreading base the same, but the applied cast female terms (on the strap-mounts on either side) and the upper mount, with its tall cylindrical pouring spout, are identical. The most significant similarity is to be found on the neck of the upper mount, where (on the reverse) there are the two cast circles containing the three interlaced cs (in relief), which are associated with Catherine de' Medici, and in between there is an engraved mask - just as on the Munich flask.

In conclusion, the origins of the mounts on the Berlin and Munich flasks are undoubtedly the same and, in the author's opinion, they are no older than the nineteenth century. In view of the poor quality of the cast decoration on these two sets of mounts and the popularity of the Catherine de' Medici device of the triple cs with modern fakers, these mounts can no longer be regarded as genuine. If, as seems to be the case, these mounts are deceptive mid-nineteenth-century pastiches, then the origin of the two cameos is once again an open question. It has already been pointed out that the two cameos on the Munich flask are atypical in having an Italianate marine triumph and battle scene for the subjects of its decoration. Similarly, it may be stressed that the Berlin cameo is alone among the handful of extant examples carved with these two busts (male and female facing in profile within an arcade), in having a coat of arms on a shield suspended from the central column of the arcade. Furthermore, the Berlin flask's shield is crisply carved with the arms of Jülich-Berg - a popular coat of arms that was easy to copy since it is not uncommonly found on German stoneware pottery from the Rhineland.

Therefore, both the Munich and the Berlin flasks can no longer be relied upon to provide any useful evidence in assessing whether this group of shell cameos was carved in France or Germany.

(iv) The Leningrad flask (or cup): Preserved in the Hermitage Museum (inv. no. E. 13471; see Julia Kagan in ‘Orie Argenti dall' Ermitage’, exh. cat., Collection Thyssen-Bornemisza, Lugano, 1986, no. 17, with col. pl.). H. 16cm. The flask is similarly constructed with a flat cameo of a bearded laureate bust and a highly convex shell. Indeed, the convex cameo differs only slightly from the Vienna flask and, therefore, also resembles in many respects the convex cameo of the Berlin flask - but does not have the armorial shield suspended from the column of the arcade. Significantly, the lozenge pattern on the ledge of the arcade and the incised decoration on the square 'pillar' above the central column on the Leningrad flask correspond closely to that found on the Waddesdon Bequest flask. A second - but unmounted - convex shell in the Hermitage Museum duplicates most of these features, with only a few minor variations; the author is indebted to Mrs Julia Kagan, Keeper of the extensive collection of engraved gems in the Hermitage, for information about this unpublished cameo and for this illustration of it.

In the 1986 Lugano exhibition catalogue, the shell cameo carving was described as having been done in “France, mid-16th century” but the silver-gilt mounts, which have transformed this typical powder-flask into a one-handled covered cup (with a small aperture), were attributed to a late sixteenth-century workshop in Nuremberg. Unfortunately, this piece has no known history earlier than 1866, when it was part of the Richard Collection that was sold in Frankfurt-am-Main; it was then bought by Baron Stieglitz of St Petersburg for inclusion in his museum of the Highschool for Technical Design, and in 1925 was transferred to the Hermitage. The silver-gilt mounts on this erstwhile powder-flask are not typical: the spreading oval foot has a poorly and lightly engraved scene of a stag hunt; the strap-mounts and handle have feebly engraved foliate designs and applied twisted-rope borders; and the small cover, which is hinged to the top of the handle with an extraordinary eagle-like 'thumb-piece', has a ruby-and-emerald-set miniature figure of Sagittarius serving as a finial. The silver-gilt mounts and gem-set finial, which have no marks and are probably not original, cannot be regarded as throwing light on the possible origin of this object.

(v) The Dresden flask: Preserved in the Electoral Armoury, inv. no. HMD X1262 (see Max von Ehrenthal, ‘Führer durch das Konigliche Historische Museum zu Dresden’, Dresden, 1899, G. 92 ; Erich Haenel, ‘Kostbare Waffen aus der Dresdener Rüstkammer’, 1923, pl. 74 i; J. Schobel, ‘Princely Arms and Armour; a Selection from the Dresden Collection’, London, 1973, p. 164, pl. 147b, and brief mention of the flat cameo with bearded head on reverse).

Still unaltered and complete with its functional silver-gilt mounts, including its spring stopper on the nozzle, this powder-flask has been preserved in one of Europe's richest and most historic princely collections of arms and armour. Little was added to the collection after the middle of the eighteenth century, and, indeed, just before it was moved for better display into the Zwinger Palace in 1833 many pieces were disposed of. Regrettably, the silver-gilt mounts on this Dresden flask are too practical and devoid of artistic ornamentation to enable any attribution to be made, but no doubt they could be as readily accepted as the work of goldsmiths employed at the Elector of Saxony's court in the sixteenth century as that of those working in Nuremberg.

Consequently, the two Dresden cameos do not necessarily have a different origin from any of the others in this group, since they could have come in an unmounted state from Paris. Both cameos are extremely close to the Waddesdon Bequest flask, the convex shell having a similar scene of two groups of triple busts vis à vis in profile under a double arch. The heads are not exactly the same and, indeed, the three male busts are on the left and the three women are on the right. However, in each trio the middle one is a Black African. Furthermore, the decoration above and below the arcade is similar, though not identical in every detail, to the Waddesdon Bequest flask.

The constant repetition of motifs with only minor alterations is a feature that often recurs within this group -perhaps indicative of a specialist workshop producing a sizeable output for a wide distribution.

(vi) The Bargello flask: Preserved in the Carrand Collection, bequeathed in 1888 to the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, inv. no. c. 1806 (see B. Thomas and L. G. Boccia, ‘Historische Prunkwqffen aus dem Museo Nazionale (Palazzo del Bargello) zu Florenz’, exh. cat., Vienna, 1970, p. 50, where it was described as “Französisch (?), um 1550”; also in the Italian edition (Florence, 1971), p. 59; also, Casarosa Guadagni 1988, pp. 30-1, no. 6, illus., where the mounts are described as silver and the flask as “perfettamente conservato” and dating from the second half of the sixteenth century; McCrory 1988, p. 421, figs 19-20, with full bibl.). H. 11.1 cm.

This powder-flask, which has no earlier history, is said (in McCrory 1988, p. 421) to have gilt-metal - not silver-mounts and that they date from “c. 1580” (on the authority of L. G. Boccia). These simple functional mounts have no significant stylistic details that help to determine their origin, but in many respects they seem to be an inexpensive version of the Dresden flask. The Bargello flask still retains its spring stopper on the nozzle with its engraved leaf ornament. The form of this flask is, however, close to the Waddesdon Bequest example and, indeed, the flat cameo shell with the laureate bust has the same shape, proportions and raised narrow border carved around the edge.

The carving of the convex shell on the other side of the flask is very different and departs from the standard arcade enclosing profile busts; in its place there is depicted a battle scene, probably based on a print by Enea Vico (after a drawing by Giulio Romano) or on the print by Barthel Beham of 1528 (Bartsch xv, 8, p. 16, no. 17). As Professor Verdier has pointed out, while circulating in France these designs were copied by several enamellers at Limoges, as, for example, on a Penicaud painted enamel tazza of the third quarter of the sixteenth century (see P. Verdier, ‘The Walters Art Gallery, Catalogue of the Painted Enamels of the Renaissance’, Baltimore, 1967, no. 56).

There is, therefore, almost as much reason to associate this particular cameo carving with a German centre as with the well-established French workshops. Indeed, this flask's base-metal mounts, if correctly assigned to so precise a date - 'circa 1580' - provide evidence that these two shell cameos may have remained unmounted for several decades before they were put to use and may, therefore, have come from different sources. However, the poor quality of the mounts on the Bargello powder-flask and the existence in the Carrand Collection of an unmounted convex shell cameo (see (vii) below) and two remounted cameos (see (viii) below) can be seen as indicative of possible 'marriages' and restorations during the nineteenth century when the Carrand Collection was being formed.

(vii) The Carrand Collection unmounted cameo: Museo Nazionale del Bargello, inv. no. c. 1303; (Casarosa Guadagni 1988, no. 8; McCrory 1988, p. 422, fig. 21). It is a close variant of the Vienna and Leningrad versions, having the central column adorned with garlands between the two busts in profile vis à vis under arches, and shows signs of having been mounted in a similar manner.

(viii) The Carrand Collection remounted cameos: An undisputed example of two cameos of this group being remounted at a much later date is the silver hinged oval box of eighteenth-/nineteenth-century date (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, inv. no. c. 1304; Casarosa Guadagni 1988, no. 5; McCrory 1988, p. 423). In the lid is the flat cameo carved with a laureate bust with full beard in profile to the right, while the convex shell forms the lower part of the box and is carved with a double arch framing two busts, a laureate male and a bareheaded female, vis à vis in profile (for the better-quality reproductions, see McCrory 1988, pp. 422-3, figs 22 and 24). Both cameos belong to this group and, indeed, the laureate bust cameo has several interesting details, like the knotted 'toga' and the luxuriant beard, in common with the Waddesdon Bequest flask's flat cameo.

(ix) The Carrand Collection cameo fragment (?): Museo Nazionale del Bargello, inv. no. c. 1299; Casarosa Guadagni 1988, p. 52, no. 16, where it is unequivocably catalogued as “Francia, secolo XVI”; also, McCrory 1988, fig. 18); 2.4 x 1.9 cm. The shape exactly follows the contours of the two busts - the lower being a Black African (in the lilac stratum) and the upper being a laureate man with a short beard and classical armour. The unusual shape of this cameo has led to the controversial suggestion that the two busts may have been cut away from their surrounding background and that originally they would have been part of a triple set of busts - as on the Dresden and Waddesdon Bequest flasks.

Indeed, there are several other extant examples. In the historic collections formed by the Dukes of Brunswick, for example, there are two small shell cameos of this type: one carved with a representation of the Three Magi (?) and the other of a male head without beard but wearing a laurel wreath and, behind, two more heads in profile - the middle being a Black African head (nos 716 and 717 respectively, in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Brunswick, but already recorded in a Ducal Gems catalogue (in French) of 1753). They are similar to the two small cameos, each with a triple set of busts carved in profile and each including a Black African head in the middle, which had entered Sir Hans Sloane's collection and so in 1753 became part of the newly created British Museum (Dalton 1915, p. 60, nos 435-6, pl. IX). These small cameos may originally have been mounted in jewellery, rather like another rare example, which is in the Hull Grundy Collection, presented to the British Museum in 1978 (Tait 1984, p. 129, no. 858, col. pl. 39). The Hull Grundy cameo, still mounted in gold as a piece of seventeenth-century jewellery in the form of a slide (to be worn on a ribbon), is carved with a triple set of busts, perhaps representing the Three Magi or the Three Ages of Man. The uppermost head depicts an aged king with flowing beard and wearing an archaic form of crown; the darker middle layer is carved with a sturdy helmeted warrior with a short beard; and the lowest layer with a youthful profile without either a beard or a moustache. The gold mount of the Hull Grundy example follows the irregular outline of the cameo, which in turn follows the contours of the subject and, therefore, indicates that this group of cameos without backgrounds, including a single female bust in profile in the Carrand Collection (Casarosa Guadagni 1988, p. 53, no. 17; McCrory 1988, p. 424, fig. 27), may have been carved in this manner - like silhouettes - from the very beginning and should not be dismissed as fragmentary remains.

Although the print source for the Waddesdon Bequest cameo of the pair of triple profile heads (incorporating a Black African face in the middle) has not been traced, the decision to include heads of negroes and negresses among some of these shell cameos may reflect the sense of rivalry that existed between the shell-cameo carvers and the true gem engravers of hardstones, so keenly patronised at the French Court since the time of Francois I. There is no evidence that the same individual craftsmen ever made both types. The Black African subject had become universally popular with the leading gem engravers of the Renaissance, partly because of the seafaring discoveries of exotic new lands and peoples and partly because of its felicitous use of the layers of both agate and onyx. No fewer than nine hardstone examples survive in the Imperial Hapsburg Collection in Vienna (Eichler and Kris 1927, nos 292-301; see also ‘Prag um 1600: Kunst und Kultur am Hofe Kaiser Rudolfs II’, exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 1988, Vol. I, no. 349, col. pl. 76/3; Vol. II, no. 715, col. pl. 28/2), while even in England two fully documented pendant lockets of the 1580s, both set with Black African onyx cameos, have been preserved: the Gresley Jewel (with a single bust, full face) and the more famous double profile cameo of the Drake Jewel (see Hugh Tait, Renaissance Jewellery: an anonymous loan to the British Museum, ‘The Connoisseur’, Vol. 154, November 1963, pp. 147-53; ‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, nos 40 and 46). Furthermore their popularity throughout the courts of Europe is confirmed by numerous inventories.

The print source for the laureate full-bearded heads on the flat white shell may be French because, as Dr McCrory has pointed out, there is at least one closely related illustration in a book printed in Lyons in 1553 - G. Rouillé, ‘La première partie du promptuaire des medalles des plus rénommées personnes qui ont esté depuis le commencement du monde: avec brieve description de leurs vies et faicts recueillie des bons auteurs’, Lyon, 1553. The portrait (p. 125) is said to depict the ruler of Constantinople, Michael Balbus, and bears a striking resemblance to the laureate busts in this group. There were, of course, many other sources available to craftsmen who wished to carve heads of this type, and the Nuremberg workshop of the engraver Virgil Solis (1514-62) disseminated the style in Germany, though often borrowing from other print sources such as Cornelis Floris in the Netherlands and Peter Flötner (c.1485-1546) in Nuremberg.

If, therefore, no decisive conclusion can be drawn from the various print sources that may have been used by these shell cameo carvers, then perhaps more significance can be attached to the evidence of the Limoges workshops during the second and third quarters of the sixteenth century. A vast and representative selection of French Renaissance painted enamels has survived - partly because they were made of copper, not precious metals. Furthermore, they were at that period in the height of fashion at the French Court, and consequently the designs used to decorate them, especially around the borders and on the backs of dishes, tazze and salt-cellars, were taken from the extensive new repertoire of Mannerist ornament introduced by the leading Italian artists working at Fontainebleau. A survey of these Limoges enamels reveals the widespread popularity of oval medallions containing cameo profile heads, both male and female. The types are varied and numerous - some being carefully rendered by the enamellers to resemble actual cameos. The cameo male head (bearded, helmeted or laureate) is as common as the female profile (with simple flowing hair or with elaborate coiffure and exotic costume) but, as yet, no Black African heads have been recorded. There can be little doubt, however, that the cameo head was a key element in the French Renaissance artist's vocabulary of ornamental subjects.

Precise evidence for the continuation of the fashion for shell cameo carving into the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, in both France and Germany, is lacking; but on the one hand the collections in Paris contain a series of French kings in oval portrait medallion form (E.C.F. Babelon, ‘Catalogue des Camées antiques et modernes de la Bibliothèque Nationales’, Paris, 1897, nos 796-855 and 856-918), whilst on the other hand the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has a similar series of German rulers (Eichler and Kris 1927, nos 447-94). Among the former is the oval shell cameo of Henri IV (reigned 1589-1610), copied from the medal by Guillaume Dupré struck in 1600 (see M.Jones, ‘A Catalogue of the French Medals in the British Museum 1600-1672’, London, 1988, p. 51, no. 4, with illus.). In Germany, one of the best-documented examples of the continuing fashion for mounting them (in the tradition of Ludwig Krug) is the large silver-gilt and enamelled tazza by Johann Baptist Weinet (or Weinold), an Augsburg goldsmith (master in 1628, died in 1648), which is still preserved in the Residenz, Munich, where it was first listed in the Kammergalerie Inventory (after 1635) and again in the 1783 Schatzkammer Inventory (H. Brunner, ‘Schatzkammer der Residenz München’, 3rd edn of the Catalogue, Munich, 1970, p. 232, no. 550; H. Brunner, ‘Die Kunstschätze der Münchner Residenz’, Munich, 1977, p. 169, fig. 164, showing interior of bowl; H. Seling, ‘Die Kunst de Augsburger Goldschmiede 1529-1868’ 3 vols., Munich, 1980, no. 1443(c), fig. 489, showing an overall view). In addition to the thirteen shell portraits of emperors, there are in the centre of the bowl four shell plaques of allegorical female figures and, on the foot, four shell cameos of the Continents. The suggestion that these very accomplished shell cameos were the work of an Augsburg master was made in Brunner 1970 but, most recently, the shell cameo portrait medallion of Henri IV, King of France, preserved in the Carrand Collection, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, was twice published unreservedly as “French, ca 1600-1610” (Casarosa Guadagni 1988, p. 54, no. 18; McCrory 1988, p. 426, no. C. 1306, fig. 32).

Finally, the silver-gilt mounts on the Waddesdon Bequest flask were probably never intended to deceive, and the forthright opinion expressed in Read 1902 (repeated in Dalton 1927) that “the mounts [are] much more modern”, can now be reiterated with even greater conviction. Indeed, a detailed examination of the stylistic and technical features, especially of the three female sphinx-like monsters on the foot and the two applied dragon-like creatures on either side of the flask, reveals a close affinity with many mid-nineteenth-century Parisian pastiches. The modern mounts have transformed the functional powder-flask into a decorative, but not very practical, 'scent-bottle' (as it was officially described both in Read 1902 and in Dalton 1927). There were no Renaissance scent-bottles of this form - as far as the records show - and so it is, perhaps, less misleading to refer to this object as a sixteenth-century cameo powder-flask remounted as a scent-bottle in modern times.


  • 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. 230
  • O.M. Dalton, ‘Catalogue of the Engraved Gems of the Post-Classical Periods in the British Museum’, London, 1915, nos 433-4
  • R. Berliner, Französische Muschelschnitte, zugleich ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der

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