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.