Miniature vase

WB.78.b     Rock crystal: 1600–1650, mounts: 1825–75 • Rock crystal, enamelled gold • vase

The rock crystal engraving is different on the two vases. The addition of identical mounts made these into a pair for collectors.

Curator's Description

Vase; rock crystal; mounted in enamelled gold; oviform body engraved with leafy scrolls; mount of mouth engraved with formal scrolls filled with translucent enamels; two openwork scroll-handles, chased and enamelled in black, emerald green, etc.; slight mounts on foot engraved and enamelled.

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

How big is it?

5.5 cm wide, 13.1 cm high, 5.5 cm deep, and it weighs 173g

Detailed Curatorial Notes

Text from Tait 1991a (WB.78A and WB.78B):-

Origin: Uncertain; previously described as 'French or Italian, 16th century', but more probably the two vases did not originally form a pair and were recently mounted in an identical manner. The six enamelled gold mounts and four scroll handles are probably French, mid-19th century. Rock-crystal vase, probably Milan or Prague, first half of 17th century; rock-crystal foot, probably modern.

Provenance: None is recorded.

Commentary: Because of the very marked differences, both in the design of the engraved decoration and in the quality of certain technical details, it has now been concluded that the two vases were probably not brought together until the middle of the nineteenth century, when they were given the appearance of a pair by the addition of identical mounts and replacement bases. If either vase had been made in modern times specifically to form a pair, then a less contrasting form of decoration could have been expected.

In their individual ways, both vases appear to be the very modest products of a workshop influenced by the Miseroni and, therefore, attributable to Milan or Prague in the first half of the seventeenth century. Both vases faintly echo the earlier masterly achievements of the workshops of the Miseroni, like the covered vase in the Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden (see E. Kris, ‘Golschmeidearbeiten des Mittelalters, der Renaissance und des Barock. I Teil: Arbeiten in Gold und Silber’, Publikationen aus den Kunsthistorischen Summlungen in Wien, Band 5, Vienna, 1932, p. 186, no. 562, pl. 165, where it is attributed to Milan towards the end of the sixteenth century), or the later minor pieces by Ottavio Miseroni (died 1624 in Prague), such as the little vase of smoky quartz engraved with scrolls and festoons in Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. no. 1507; see R. Distelberger, Beobachtungen zu den Steinschneidewerkstatten der Miseroni in Mailand und Prag, ‘Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien’, Vol. 74, 1978, pp. 79-152, fig. 135, also, figs 126 and 127, illustrating two very different bowls on low stems that have been decorated with the ubiquitous feathery scrolls of the Miseroni workshop in Prague).

The restrained use of the engraved festoons and scrolls on these two miniature vases can be compared with the equally elegant application of similar ornament on the sides and base of an unpublished two-handled shell-shaped sea-monster bowl, which entered the British Museum in 1753 as part of the foundation collection of Sir Hans Sloane (SL. 50). It is complete with its original gem-set, painted enamel mounts to join the handles to the sides and to protect the foot-rim; in style, the enamelling, with its pale blue background and white scrolls 'picked out' in brownish-red, is typical of the mid-seventeenth-century fashion that spread from France and the Netherlands to all parts of Europe. Its origin in the Miseroni workshop in Prague seems highly probable and, significantly, the workshop has sought to hide blemishes in the tiny rock-crystal by engraving a flying bird (near the rim) and small winged insects -just as had been done on WB.78B. The competent relief carving of the sea-monster's head is less subtle than that on the Sir William Hamilton Vase but, in the perfunctory engraving of the eyebrows and whiskers of the sea-monster, the Sloane Collection two-handled bowl provides convincing evidence of the decline in standards by the middle decades of the seventeenth century, especially in executing the fine details on the more modest products of the workshops of the Miseroni and their contemporaries. Several small-scale minor pieces of rock-crystal have survived in the French royal collection, dating mainly from the reign of Louis XIV, and can be seen in the Galerie d'Apollon at the Louvre. Some have similarly unambitious wheel-engraved decoration and simple enamelled gold mounts.


  • 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, nos 78a and 78b
  • O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 78
  • Hugh Tait, 'Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. III. The Curiosities', British Museum, London, 1991, no.40, figs. 344-346.
  • 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 1991a: Tait, Hugh, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum; III The 'Curiosities', London, BMP, 1991

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