George Guy Grenville, the 4th earl of Warwick, was a prolific collector and instrumental in the developments made to Warwick Castle in the 19th century. Obsessed by the Renaissance, his collection included an impressive collection of works by Shakespeare, arms and armor as well as the prized ‘Cellini’ cup.
Benvenuto Cellini (Italy, 1500-1571) was a celebrated draftsman, sculptor and goldsmith. His works demonstrated the pinnacle of Renaissance metalwork. It is understandable that a 19th century audience likened the present lot with Cellini’s work based on the exquisite execution and precision of the chasing, repoussé and application of enamel. There is truly no higher compliment than bestowing the work with his name.
In the 1857 exhibition catalogue, they quote Vasari’s account of Cellini:
He mounted precious stones so beautifully, and decorated them with such wonderful settings, such exquisite little figures, and sometimes of so original and so fanciful a taste, that nothing can be imagined superior to them. Nor can we sufficiently praise the medals of gold and silver engraved by him in his youth, with incredible care.
Spectacularly, a drawing from the 1857 exhibition of the cup survives in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. (Illustrated online)
By the early 20th century, this cup become a part of an even more famous collection, that of J.P. Morgan.
The elaborate scenes of battle are derived from the epic History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita), chapter 22 depicting the ‘Disaster at Cannae.’
The inscription on the upper rim reads:
HANIBAL ALPIBUS PATEFACTIS / ROMAN[OS] APUD TICIN. TREB. ET TRASIM. / ROMANORUM MAXIMA NOBILITAVIT / SUPERAVIT TANDEM CANNAS CLADE
After laying open the Alps, Hannibal ennobled and defeated the Romans at Ticinus, Trebia and Trasimene and finally at Cannae, the greatest disaster of the Romans.
The inscription on the lower rim reads:
MINIME CESSANDUM REOR / TEMPUS AD CONSILIUM PRENSANDUM / VINCERE SCIS HANIBAL / VICTORIA UTI NESCIS
I hold that no time should be lost / Time to grasp my plans / You know how to gain a victory, Hannibal, / you do not know not how to use it
After his overwhelming victory at Cannae, one of Hannibal’s cavalry commanders, Maharbal, urged Hannibal to march directly on Rome, ‘I hold that no time should be lost.´ Hannibal, hesitant to act so hastily, is confronted by Maharbal who delivers his famous saying, ‘You know how to gain a victory, Hannibal, you do not know how to use it.’ Hannibal’s conscientiousness was rewarded, of course, when he did successfully attached Rome in 211 BC, five years later. The Battle of Cannae is regarded as one of the greatest tactical feats in Roman history and impacted military doctrine for thousands of years after.