• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7568

    Seven Centuries: Italian Works of Art From Palazzo Odescalchi, Rome

    8 November 2007, London, King Street

  • Lot 437



    Price Realised  


    The lid elaborately decorated with a medusa mask to the centre within a laurel wreath, flanked by two putti and framed by a frieze of scrolls; the body decorated with busts framed by cornucopia and flanked by nymphs riding on centaurs to the front and back, the sides with medusa masks and garlands; on four lion's paw feet; dark-brown patina with medium-brown high points
    3¼ x 8½ x 4¾ in. (8.2 x 21.6 x 12 cm.)

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    With the exception of the different feet, the bronze writing box offered here is identical to another version in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris (Florence, loc. cit) and another in the Samuel H. Kress collection, the National Gallery of Art, Washington (loc. cit.). Catalogued as merely north Italian in the first instance and as a model invented by Severo da Ravenna in the second, each casket including the present lot almost certainly dates from the first half of the 16th century. When Pope-Hennessy proposed the attribution to Severo for the Kress casket, it was on the basis of general stylistic comparisons to a number of works from his oeuvre and especially the signed inkstand in the form of a sea-monster exhibited in 1964 (Pope-Hennessy, loc. cit.). Although this attribution has remained largely unchallenged, the use of the signed sea-monster as the linchpin for all the attributions is tenuous. A fascinating case for an attribution comes from the unknown maker of the bronze reliquary doors of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome (Radcliffe, Baker and Maek-Gérard, loc. cit.). Stylistic comparisons to the figures of the putti bearing garlands, the distinctive truncated busts in niches and the type of foliate scroll-work on the doors can be made with elements on the present casket which suggests that the same artist or workshop could have been involved in their creation.

    In the late 19th century the doors were ascribed, on no solid grounds, to the Milanese goldsmith Caradosso on the basis that he had also executed the distinctive truncated terracotta bust in San Satiro, Milan, which was thought to be a relevant comparison. However, the bust in San Satiro bears little resemblance to the bust on the doors and on the caskets. Frustratingly, modern scholarship has yet to provide a sustainable candidate for the authorship of these caskets, but the connection between the creator of the doors and the lot offered here justifies further investigation. The anonymous author of the doors represents a more plausible candidate than Severo, who has hitherto been favoured as the most likely author but without much tangible proof. Curiously, another series of so-called Severo caskets, examples of which are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and formerly in the collection of Sir Alfred Beit (Christie's, London, 7 December 2006, lot 152) have a very distinctive decorative scheme to the underside of the lid which is not dissimilar to the same scheme of the two bottom panels on the doors on San Pietro in Vincoli. Although not a conclusive argument the comparison adds further weight to the idea that the as-yet-unknown author of the San Pietro in Vincoli doors may also be responsible for the series of caskets of which the present lot is an example.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Massachusetts, Smith College Museum of Art, Renaissance Bronzes in American Collections, 9 Apr. - 3 May 1964, J. Pope-Hennessy ed., no. 8.
    J. Pope-Hennessy, Renaissance Bronzes from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, London, 1965, no. 491, figs. 479-80.
    A. Radcliffe, M. Baker and M. Maek-Gérard, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection - Renaissance and later Sculpture with Works of Art in Bronze, London, 1992, p. 203.
    Florence, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Donatello e una 'Casa' del Rinascimento - Capolavori dal Jacquemart-André, C. Giannini and N. St. Fare Garnot eds., 12 May - 31 Aug. 2007, no. 2.2.