Carving into rock crystal has long been regarded as one of the most awe-inspiring, and highly prized, expressions of artistry. This was especially the case in the late 16th and 17th centuries when members of the royal houses of Austria and Germany feverishly collected, and commissioned, artists to produce virtuoso works of art in exotic materials for their kunstkammer collections. The purpose of these collections was to enhance the fürstliche Reputation und Zier (princely reputation and decoration) as well as the intellectual understanding of the natural world. Through the carving and subsequent observation of wondrous natural elements such as rock crystal, these collectors felt as if nature, and indeed the universe itself, could be categorised and shaped by mankind.
The art of carving rock crystal represented, arguably, the pinnacle of mankind's shaping of nature since the physical properties of the material, both incredible hardness and brittleness, meant that only the greatest craftsmen could carve it. This naturally resulted in the fact that only the greatest patrons could afford to acquire such works of art and thus used them as symbols of their great power, wealth and intellect. While many significant collections of kunst- and wunderkammern were formed from the late 16th century onwards, only a few are as awe-inspiring as those of Archduke Ferdinand and Emperor Rudolph II, together with the baroque collections of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, that now form the nucleus of the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. De-accessioned from the same museum in 1944, the shallow rock-crystal dish offered here is a perfect example of the type of object that these patrons were striving to amass.
Attributed by Dr. Rudolf Distelberger (private communication) to Dionysio Miseroni, son of Ottavio and grandson of Girolamo Miseroni, the dish almost certainly dates from the early stages of his career when Dionysio was still under the influence of his grandfather's geometric and father's mannered styles. Stylistic comparisons between his grandfather's double-handled urn in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (loc. cit., p. 185, no. 99) and the present dish, for example, see Dionysio appropriating Girolamo's long, simple, elegant lines of foliage terminating in small curls and the grouping of three fruit (possibly quince) with issuing stylised leaves. From Ottavio's style, which was more abstract and organic than any of his predecessors' work, Dionysio seems to have appropriated his father's simple, organic, forms. Although different types of objects, it is possible to see in Ottavio's jasper neff in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, for example, where Dionysio took influence for the rounded edges and large expanses of undecorated ground that can be seen on the present dish. This combination of geometric and subtly organic forms, therefore, suggest that the present dish was executed early in his career while he was still influenced by his predecessors, and since his style from the late 1630s onwards was visibly more organic, a dating of circa 1630 for the present dish is plausible.
Even though research has not yet been carried out to determine if the lot offered here was included in the extensive 1750 inventory of the Emperor's Schatzkammer, it is unquestionably the same dish described in an 1889 yearbook as Ein Präsentierteller aus Bergkrystall, sehr flach, mit zwei eingeschliffenen Blumenstucken, der niedere Fuss von Gold und emailliert. XVII. Jahrh (a rock crystal presentation dish, very flat, with two carved floral motifs, the lower foot of enamelled gold. (loc. cit.).