The Welcome Cup
The tradition of offering a guest a 'Willkommen Pokale', or welcome cup, of wine was long established in Europe and culminated, in the 16th and 17th centuries, with the production of charming cups in the form of animals with detachable heads. These cups would have taken a form relevant to their owners, for example modelled as a heraldic beast or the symbol of a guild. The extraordinary creativity of examples that were produced across Europe at the time was shown in the collection built by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé which were sold in Paris in 2009. The group, consisting of some dozen examples, included not only a lion rampant, also marked for Augsburg though made some 50 years after the present example (Christie's, Paris, 24 February 2009, lot 174), but also animals as diverse as owls, unicorns and bears.
Christoph Erhart (d.1604) was made a master of the Augsburg Guild of Goldsmiths in 1565, the same year that he married Ursula Spitzmacher who was herself from a family with a tradition of membership to the Augsburg guild, her father Cisimus I being made master in 1529 and at least two of her brothers, Salomon and Cisimus II becoming master in 1566 and 1576 respectively. It would seem that Erhart had a successful career with a commission from the Hapsburg Court for silver-gilt plate that was to form part of the Emperor's gift to the Turkish Sultan.
Though he is known to have produced conventional silver and silver-gilt hollow-ware, such as a cup and cover with chased strapwork and figural finial (Christie's, Geneva, 9 November 1976, lot 250), the existing work bearing his distinctive maker's mark would seem to suggest that the Willkommen Pokale formed a significant part of his production at the end of the 16th century. Among the examples that he produced are a leaping horse (H. Seling, Die Kunst der Augsburger Goldschmiede 1529-1868, Munich, 1980, vol. II, no. 159) and two tripping stags given to the British Museum as part of the Waddesdon Bequest, having been collected before 1866 by Baron Anselm von Rothschild, (H. Tait, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum II. The Silver Plate, London, 1988, nos. 19 and 20, pp. 141-148). Another tripping stag appeared recently at auction, having belonged to another member of the great Rothschild collecting dynasty, Baron Lionel de Rothschild (1807-1879). It descended to Edmund de Rothschild C.B.E., T.D. (Sotheby's, London, 6, July 2010, lot 2). With the exception of the leaping horse, which rests on a trefoil base, each of the examples, though depicting differing creatures, share strikingly similar bases which are either oval, as in the case of the present cup and the two Waddesdon examples at the British Museum, or oblong as in the case of the Edmund de Rothschild example. Each are chased to depict rockwork which incorporate various animals. While the chasing on each differs comparisons can be made, for example, with the snake which are chased on both the present cup and the first of the Waddesdon cups (H. Seling, op. cit., p. 143, fig. 130) and the use of snails in both the present example and the Edmund de Rothschild cup.
Mayer Carl von Rothschild (1820-1886)
The Rothschild banking dynasty was founded by Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812). Described by Forbes magazine as 'a founding father of international finance' and voted 7th most influential businessmen of all time, Mayer Amschel and his five children, known famously as the Five Arrows, spread the Rothschild banking empire through Europe, with Amschel staying in Frankfurt, Salomon going to Austria; Nathan to England; Carl to Naples and James to France. Wherever they went, the family and their descendants used their wealth to build collections of exceptional works of art.
It was Mayer Carl, the eldest son of Carl (1788-1855), the third arrow, and his wife Louise (d.1894), who became one of the most accomplished of collectors among a family of collectors, amassing a collection of over 5,000 works of art which were displayed in his houses in Frankfurt and at the Gunthersburg. Upon his death, his collection was divided between his widow and three of his daughters, and some of his silver was sold 12-13 June 1911 at Galerie Georg Petit, Paris, and other pieces staying in the collection of another of his daughters. For a discussion of Mayer Carl von Rothschild's role as a collector see Philippa Glanville, "Mayer Carl von Rothschild: Collector or Patriot" in The Magazine Antiques, October 2005, pp. 144-149.