A Highly important German silver-gilt and enamel tankard
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A Highly important German silver-gilt and enamel tankard


A Highly important German silver-gilt and enamel tankard
circa 1530-1550, probably Dresden or Nuremberg, struck with an unrecorded mark of the arms of Saxony, presumably as an ownership mark, and with later Austro-Hungarian control mark for Prague, 1806-7
The massive cylindrical body resting on three lion couchant feet each on chased oval flat base, the lower part of the body with stamped repetitive band of putti playing amongst scrolling foliage between bands of moulding and lozenges, the central part with five applied circular medallions, each champlevé enamelled in bright transluscent colours with exotic birds, including a pelican in her piety and a crane with scrolling foliage on matted ground, within outer matted frame, with varying engraved moresque panels between, beneath further stamped bands of birds amongst scrolling foliage and moulding and lozenges, the cover with engraved scrolling foliate border above band of lozenges, enclosing six similarly enamelled smaller medallions, four with flowers, and foliage, one with spread eagle and the other with exotic bird with varying engraved foliate strapwork panels between, the raised domed centre with lower band of lozenges, and with applied enamel foliate calyx beneath cylindrical band enamelled with scrolling foliage, the finial formed as a landsknecht (possibly originally holding a shield) standing on rockwork mound above enamelled foliate calyx, the bold baluster handle with central baluster knop and chased with acanthus foliage terminating at each end with a double bearded mask, the thumbpiece formed as a naked putto supporting an openwork cartouche of a male and female caryatid flanking a central heart, the mark of the Saxon arms struck on the side, 1806-7 control marks on base rim, inventory number 529 struck on base rim
11in. (28cm.) high
gross 94oz. (2,950gr.)
Reputed to have been given as a christening gift by Johann Georg II, Elector of Saxony (1613-1680) to the Austrian family of von Clary und Aldringen.
The most likely recipient in that family is Johann Georg Markus, (1638-1700), Chamberlain and Privy Councillor and Ambassador to the Saxon Elector who married in 1667, at Marjaschein, Ludmilla Countess of Schönfeld who died in Prague in 1676.
They had two sons. The eldest, Johann Georg, died in 1701. Given that he was clearly named after his father, and presumably the Elector of Saxony as well, his christening would seem to be the most probable occasion on which the tankard was presented to the family. The second son, Franz Carl, Count von Clary und Aldringen (1675-1751) was a Privy Councillor and Master of the Royal Hunt in the Bohemian Court.
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Lot Essay

This extraordinarily rare tankard is one of the earliest German examples extant. On stylistic grounds it can be confidently dated to the second quarter of the 16th century. The distinctive handle bears a striking resemblance to that of a flagon dating from circa 1540. This flagon is struck with an indistinct mark and has been attributed, but not on any particularly convincing grounds, to a Nuremberg goldsmith. This piece is now in the Dreieinigkeitskirche in Regensburg (H. Kohlhaussen, Nürnberger Goldschmiedekunst des Mittelalters und der Dürerzeit, Berlin, 1968 cat. No. 485, fig. 711). It is closely related to an unattributed design in the Kupferstichkabinett in Basel, although the drawing shows a spouted flagon. (T. Falk, Kunstmuseum Basel/Kupferstichkabinett, Katalog der Zeichnungen, Basel, 1979, vol. III cat. no. 561).

Ornamental details on the present tankard, such as the putti amongst scrolling foliage around the lower part of the body, are found in the designs of Heinrich Aldergrever (1502-1560) and Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550), amongst other early 16th Century German artists. The finial too can be compared with that on a cup and cover based on the designs of Albrecht Altdorfer (before 1480-1538), which has a Nuremberg townmark dated to circa 1530. This cup was given to the Cathedral of Vigevano, south-west of Milan around 1534 (Kohlhaussen, op. cit., cat. no. 479, figs. 704 and 705).

The unusual form of the present tankard, which, in all probability, derives from a wooden prototype, is also found in a smaller pyx or box for the Host formerly in the Königlichen Evangelischen Hofkirche St. Sophien in Dresden and now in a private German collection. This pyx, which almost certainly originally had a secular use, has been attributed to the Nuremberg master, Peter Flötner, who died in 1546 (ed. R. Steche und C. Gurlitt, Beschreibende Darstellungen der älteren Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler des Königreiches Sachsen, Dresden, 1903, vol. 21-23, p. 235, fig. 107).

The mark of the Saxon arms appears, most probably, to be an ownership mark of that Electoral family, particularly given the tankard's reputed 17th century history. It has also been suggested that it could perhaps be a previously unrecorded, town mark used in Dresden. Marc Rosenberg illustrates a capital D in circular punch used from the mid-16th century, followed by the more familiar crossed swords mark of the late 17th and 18th centuries (Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen, Frankfurt am Main, 1923, vol. 3, nos. 1658-1664).

However major pieces of silver connected with Dresden dating from the first half of the 16th century seem most often to have been imported from Nuremberg. Surviving pieces of silver known to have been made in Dresden at this time are not of the scale and are not as sophisticated as this tankard but, it should be pointed out, such extant pieces are very rare. Indeed, Walter Holzhausen (Prachtgefässe, Geschmeide, Kabinettstücke-Goldschmiedekunst in Dresden, Tübingen, 1966) cites no work prior to 1585. However, there were most certainly working goldsmiths in Dresden from at least the late Mediaeval period, as the seal of the Dresden Goldsmiths' guild, cut with the figure of St. Eligius, dates from circa 1530 (Holzhausen, op. cit., p. 9). This was a period, when the city of Dresden was exceedingly wealthy owing to the silver mines in the mountains nearby. It is perfectly possible that an itinerant silversmith, au fait with the latest Nuremberg designs, was attracted to, and settled in, Dresden.
(We are very grateful to Prof. Johann Michael Fritz for suggesting a possible Saxon origin for this tankard and the information on the pyx mentioned above).

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