There has been a complete re-evaluation in the understanding of objects such as the present cup in the 40 odd years since the present cup was acquired by its present owner. It is also a tribute to the skill of the makers that so many Renaissance-style jewels and works of art, whether made as deliberate fakes, or to satisfy the desire for a princely Schatzkammer look, have been accepted as genuine throughout much of the 20th Century. Indeed, their work was so sophisticated that it is only through the chance survival of the Spitzer catalogues, Vasters' drawings and André's models that it has become possible to identify with any degree of certainty their productions today.
It is only in the last twenty years or so that jewellery and silver historians have begun to realise the sheer number of pieces made in the latter part of the 19th Century in the Renaissance style. The discovery, in the Victoria and Albert Museum library, of some 1,000 designs for jewellery and the mountings of hardstone by the goldsmith Reinhold Vasters of Aachen has revolutionised our thinking on the subject. Work by Charles Truman and Dr Yvonne Hackenbroch on Vasters and, more recently, by Rudolf Distelberger on the Parisian jeweller, Alfred André, have to some extent clarified the picture. However, the links between these two craftsmen, their workshops and the collector and dealer in Paris, Frédéric Spitzer, remain somewhat obscure. It has been known for two decades that perhaps chief among the clients for Vasters' productions were the Rothschilds and, of that extended clan, it was the Parisian Rothschilds who bought
most heavily. The current sale of part of that Rothschild collection, including several examples of work by both Vasters and André, provides an extraordinary opportunity to examine in detail the work of these exceptionally talented 19th Century goldsmiths.
Reinhold Vasters (1827-1909) was born near Aachen and entered his mark as a goldsmith in that city in 1853. He was very shortly thereafter appointed restorer at the Aachen Cathedral Treasury. His early work seems to have concentrated on church silver which he marked, very straight-forwardly, R. VASTERS in a rectangular punch. In addition there are two recorded Renaissance style jewels from this period which bear an RV conjoined mark struck on a small applied plaque on the reverse, which are almost certainly by him. By the late 1860s he seems to have given up making new church silver and turned to working mainly on unmarked secular pieces in the Gothic and Renaissance style. It is particularly interesting that, in 1865, the Cathedral authorities ordered an early 16th Century pax in the Treasury to be altered to a clasp. According to Stephen Beissel, writing in 1909, a dozen or so copies were made at that time one of which found its way into the collection of Frédéric Spitzer in Paris. The supposition must be that Vasters was responsible for making these clasps. The designs for the whole, or part, of at least twenty other pieces in the Spitzer collection are found among the Vasters' drawings.
From this period on, Vasters seems to have become increasingly wealthy and by 1880 was publicly exhibiting works of art from his personal collection. Indeed the 1902 Dusseldorf exhibition, 'Kunsthistorische Ausstellung', included no fewer than 500 pieces owned by Vasters. As Edmund Renard observed at the time of the exhibition 'Among the smaller private collections that of the Aachen goldsmith Reinhold Vasters offers a highly characteristic picture - throughout one notes the specialist and technician. Several decades of cooperation with the greatest genius among nineteenth-century collectors, Spitzer has had a distinct influence on the formation of the collection'. Predictably the highlights of Vasters' collection included mounted Milanese rock crystal and enamelled jewels.
Frédéric Spitzer (1815-90) owned an antique business in Aachen from about 1850 till at least 1868 and it is during this period that he almost certainly came across the Cathedral goldsmith. In 1871 Spitzer gave the Cathedral a silver-gilt clasp which was part old and part brand new and in all probability was made-up by Vasters. In 1852 Spitzer purchased a large house in Paris on the rue de Villejust, which became known as the Musée Spitzer. Here he amassed a huge collection of Renaissance and Renaissance-style gold and silverwork and other works of art of every description. Sometimes the pieces were 'improved' as was the case with the six Aldobrandini tazze which he owned. It appears that he commissioned a goldsmith, presumably Vasters, to melt the original plain detachable fluted feet of the tazze and replace them with more elaborate examples which seemed, to contemporary taste at least, to be more truly Renaissance in spirit.
Preferring to be known as an amateur, Spitzer was clearly a brilliant dealer moving in the most elegant social circles in Paris. On one occasion he entertained his friends and presumably clients with a musical recital by Liszt. As the introduction to the Spitzer sale held in Paris between April 17 to June 16, 1893 noted 'pendant douze ans (1878-1890), l'hôtel de la rue de Villejust a été le pèlerinage de toute l'aristocratie européenne, aristocratie de naissance, de talent ou de fortune'.
Stephen Beissel, writing in the year of Spitzer's death, observed that Spitzer had 'as is well known, employed for almost fifty years a series of first rate artists in Paris, Cologne, Aachen etc., who made him old things'. While the identity of the Aachen artist has been known then for twenty years, it has recently been suggested that the Cologne supplier may be the maker and superb enameller Gabriel Hermeling who worked from 1860 till 1904 (9). In Paris, the first rate artist seems to be, without doubt, the jeweller Alfred André (1839-1919).
Although there seems to be no design known for this cup in its entirely, Dr. M Krautwurst, who has exhaustively researched the designs of Reinhold Vasters, which are preserved in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, illustrates, in her unpublished dissertation on the work of Vasters, two drawings relevant to the present cup. The first (V&A 3600-1919) illustrated a handle which is remarkably similar to the handle on the present example, though with differing colour enamel. She further publishes the design for a grotesque mask (V&A 2985-1919), which compares to the mask under the spout of the cup offered here.