This magnificent cup was a gift from the five protestant cities whose arms surmount it, to the Basel city father, Andreas Ryff (1515-1603), in 1603 for conducting successful negotiations to obtain the repayment of a loan to King Henry IV of France made in 1591-92. This loan of 70,000 kronen was raised by the five cities from their wealthiest citizens with promises of interest payments. Negotiations on repayment started in 1593 and in autumn 1597 Andreas Ryff was made second in command of a team from Basel to negotiate with the French. He was shortly put in charge of the team and the other four cities requested that he represent them as well. All these cities were in turn naturally under great pressure from their leading citizenry to obtain the repayment.
The negotiations ended successfully and at a council meeting at Aarau on 29 April 1603 it was agreed to award Ryff with five kronen from St. Gallen and ten kronen each from the other cities (the sums being in proportion to those making up the original loan). Andreas Ryff was specifically instructed that 'out of this sum he was to have made a drinking vessel with the coats-of-arms of the five towns on it' (translation from the minutes of the meeting held on 29 April 1603 at Aarau- Staatsarchiv Basel, Eidgenossenschaft E 5,5).
In fact he owed the council 9 gulden, which was deducted from the amount he could spend. He died on 18 August 1603, within a few months of placing the order with Segesser and, presumably, the cup was delivered to his son shortly afterwards who then added the arms on the interior of the cover.
The Ryff family died out subsequently and the history of the cup is unknown until its appearance in the sale in Paris in 1861 of the remarkable collection of Prince P. Soltykov (or Saltykov). The sale of his collection at the Hotel Druot comprised over 1,100 lots, and included other early European silver and Limoges enamels etc. The cup then appears to have been purchased by the Rothschilds either at the sale or very shortly thereafter.
The superbly executed chased hunting and fishing scenes appear to be after the work of Jost Amman (1539-1591). A series of woodcuts by Amman of hunting scenes closely relate to the scenes on this cup. They include a figure of a hunter about to strike a wolf with a scythe which is virtually identical, though reversed, to that chased on the mid-band of the cup (see J. S. Peters, ed., The illustrated Bartch, vol 20, part 2, Woodcuts, Kunstliche Wolgerissene New Figuren, (Hunts), New York, 1985, pp 701-723 and, in particular, p.718, no. 9.32 (371)).
Amman, was born in Zurich and moved to Nuremberg around 1560 where he lived until his death. His work was extremely popular and his prints were much used as design sources by silver engravers and more rarely, as in the case of the present cup, by chasers. He was however far from alone in the second half of the seventeenth century in producing print sources of hunting scenes that were used in the applied arts. Similar hunting scenes appear in publication engraved or published by Philip Galle (1537-1612), Adriaen Collaert (1560-1618) and Hans (Jan Baptist I) Collaert (1566-1628) etc, and were after Johan Stradanus, J. Boll and others.
It is interesting to note that late sixteenth/early seventeenth Century Basel goldsmiths, such as Peterhans I Segesser, who became a master in 1551 and died in 1613/1614, and even those working a century later, would have been entirely conversant with Gothic-form beakers. From around 1,400 goldsmiths and money-changers belonged to the 'Hausgenosssen' as their guild was known. According to U. Barth, (foreword to Altes Basler Silbergerat im Hause zum "Kirschgarten", Basel, 1977) for a goldsmith to work as a master in Basel and run his own independent shop he had to belong to the Hausgenossen and to do that he must serve the necessary apprenticeship and journeyman period and then demonstrate his ability with a masterpiece. For over three hundred years, 'up until 1725, Basel goldsmiths had to produce a drinking vessel, a signet and a ring. The drinking vessel, a bossed Gothic goblet [our italics] became very hard to sell at the beginning of the 18th Century' and the cup was replaced by a plate or dish which was by then more commercial.
Another cup of similar form, also probably by Segesser, with a finial formed as Saint George and engraved with the arms of Bischoff is in the collection of the Louvre Museum, Paris (see J.J. Marquet de Vasselot, Muse du Louvre, Orfvrerie, maillerie et gemmes du moyen ge au XVIIe sicle, Paris, 1914, no 333, pl. XXVIII).
(We are extremely grateful to Professor Richter for his advice and for carrying out metal analyis of this cup. The metal analysis is entirely consistent with a dating of around 1600.)