The Silver Caesars: A Renaissance Mystery

Anonymous (Netherlandish?) goldsmith.  Detail of the Domitian dish from the Aldobrandini Tazze, ca.  1587–99.  Gilded silver.  Minneapolis Institute of Art, The James Ford Bell Family Foundation Fund, The M.  R.  Schweitzer Fund, and The Christina N.  and Swan J.  Turnblad Memorial Fund; Anonymous (Netherlandish?).  Detail of the Titus dish from the Aldobrandini Tazze, ca.  1587-99.  Gilded silver.  Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon
Anonymous (Netherlandish?) goldsmith. Detail of the Domitian dish from the Aldobrandini Tazze, ca. 1587–99. Gilded silver. Minneapolis Institute of Art, The James Ford Bell Family Foundation Fund, The M. R. Schweitzer Fund, and The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund; Anonymous (Netherlandish?). Detail of the Titus dish from the Aldobrandini Tazze, ca. 1587-99. Gilded silver. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

The superb technical virtuosity of Renaissance silversmiths is nowhere more evident than in the magnificent set of 12 silver-gilt standing cups from the 16th century known collectively as the Aldobrandini Tazze. Each of the Tazze stands over a foot tall and features a shallow footed dish surmounted by a figure of one of the first 12 Caesars. On the intricately wrought interior of each dish appear four episodes from the life of the corresponding ruler, as recounted by the Roman historian Suetonius. Although the Tazze are among the finest and rarest examples of 16th-century European silverwork, little is known about their creation. The questions of when, where, why, for whom, and by whom these splendid luxury objects were made will be addressed in the exhibition The Silver Caesars: A Renaissance Mystery, opening December 12 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The complete set has not been seen together since the mid-19th century, when it was disassembled and dispersed, its constituent parts misidentified and mismatched. In addition, the elements of all 12 Tazze will be displayed in their original configuration—a unique opportunity for modern viewers to appreciate one of the most enigmatic monuments of in the work of 16th-century goldsmiths.

The Silver Caesars will highlight the elegance and astonishing erudition of the Tazze, presenting them with a small selection of other works in silver and other media, including both ancient and Renaissance coins and medals and Renaissance prints, books, and paintings. The exhibition will consider such topics as 19th-century views of the Renaissance and Renaissance views of ancient Rome. Examples of 19th-century works that the Tazze inspired will be included. In addition to offering new insights into the Tazze and their history, the exhibition will explore the set's famously mysterious reputation—engaging the visitor in tracing clues that may lead to a better understanding of this Renaissance masterpiece.

Within the exhibition, a digital component featuring high-resolution photography of two Tazze will enable visitors to explore these works and their fantastic antiquarian imagery in greater depth. This material, including narration by Mary Beard, Professor of Classics, University of Cambridge, will also be available on The Met website.

The exhibition is organized by Julia Siemon, Assistant Research Curator, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. At The Met, conservation and scientific analysis were performed, respectively, by Linda Borsch, Conservator, Department of Objects Conservation, and Mark T. Wypyski, Research Scientist, and Federico Carò, Associate Research Scientist, Department of Scientific Research. Exhibition design is by Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Design Manager; graphics are by Mortimer Lebigre, Graphic Designer, and Amber Newman, Junior Graphic Designer; lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Design Managers, all of The Met Design Department.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication edited by Julia Siemon, with essays by Ellenor Alcorn, Mary Beard, Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, Linda Borsch, Federico Carò, Wolfram Koeppe, Xavier F. Salomon, Timothy Schroder, Julia Siemon, Stefanie Walker, and Mark T. Wypyski. The book, which is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, will be available at The Met Store (paperback, $50).

Following its presentation at The Met, the exhibition will be on view at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, from April 18 through July 22, 2018

 

ArtfixDaily Artwire