two lost masterpieces of the goldsmith's art

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  • Two Lost Masterpieces of the Goldsmith's ArtAuthor(s): Herbert ThurstonSource: The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 8, No. 31 (Oct., 1905), pp. 37-39+42-43Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.Stable URL: .Accessed: 08/12/2014 02:00

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  • The Classification of Oriental Carpets and Damascus, it may be said, were seats of silk manufacture at a very early date.

    It is probable that the introduction of silk into oriental carpets was a Mahomedan innovation, possibly it may have been due to Saracenic in- fluence. Sir George Birdwood attributed to the Saracens all or most of the variations in carpet manufacture actually traceable to Mahomedans after their occupation of Bagdad and Damascus. And these variations they spread along the Medi- terranean littoral from the eighth to the eleventh century. He held that although the Saracens had but little taste for artistic design, yet they certainly exercised a distinct influence on the art of decoration. To them is due, in his view, the origin and development which culminated in the Renaissance. In so far as regards oriental carpets, magnificent examples of which are treasured in the churches and cathedrals of Italy, Spain, and Portugal, he is of opinion that only a very small proportion can be attributed to Persia. That Mahomedan designs were modified by Christian influences there can be no doubt. Many compli- cated designs, attributed commonly to Persia, should really be traced to the Saracens and to the Moors, and where Christian emblems were

    introduced into them the reason was that the Saracens and Moors worked under Christian masters, probably for the most part monks who were themselves inspired by Saracenic influence. In Riegl's work 'Altorientalische Teppiche' are given two illustrations of an authenticated seven- teenth century Persian carpet in which the design shows indubitably the presence of Christian in- fluences. The main field of the carpet depicts hunting scenes by large bodies of men in Persian dress and on horseback accompanied by hunting lions, leopards, and hounds engaged in the chase of deer and other animals; in among these are scattered innumerable minute flowers of various known kinds. This is, save in the excellence of workmanship, a normal Persian design dominated by Saracenic influences. The bordering of this remarkable work, however, is almost entirely composed of the figures of angels and cherubs, having a distinctly western type of ethereal beauty. It is noteworthy in this regard that in the early seventeenth century, during the reign of Shah Abbas the Great, the Portuguese were occupying Hormuz, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, and the English, French, and Dutch Gomerom, or, as it is now called, Bandar Abbas.

    (To be continued.)


    S it not Professor Lanciani who has somewhere remarked that he who seeks to shed new light upon the antiquities or arts of Italy must search the libraries of England? Whoever may be the author of the saying, it con- tains a considerable element of

    truth. To the many instances in point which might easily be quoted, I venture to add one new illustration.

    Some twelve years ago the Print Room of the British Museum acquired-by purchase, if I mis- take not-a volume of coloured drawings, most of them depicting objects of ecclesiastical art used in the pontifical ceremonies at St. Peter's. The sketches were executed by Italian draughtsmen, in particular by F. Bartoli and J. Grisoni, at the instance of an English collector named John Talman. How access was obtained to these treasures, preserved some of them in the castle of St. Angelo and others in 'the Pope's secret sacristy in the Vatican,' it is not easy to conjecture, but there can be no question that the drawings were carefully made from the objects themselves. As regards date it will be sufficient to say that the

    collection belongs to the first half of the eighteenth century. Some of the sketches were probably made as early as 1729.

    What lends, however, a special interest to this volume is the fact that many of the objects therein depicted are now no longer in existence. After the campaign which Napoleon in the February of 1797 directed against the States of the Church, a treaty was concluded with the Holy See at Tolentino. By the terms of this agreement the Pope, besides various cessions of territory, was compelled to furnish an indemnity of 30,000,000 francs. As the money had to be forthcoming without delay, and a third of the sum by special arrangement was allowed to be paid in diamonds or other valuables, Pius VI, at his wit's end for resources, was compelled to fall back upon his plate and jewellery. A number of precious objects were broken in pieces or melted down, and there can be little doubt that many splendid specimens perished, of which no memory now survives.' For just a few, thanks to such collectors as

    1 An account of this act of vandalism will be found in Piot's Cabinet de 'Amateur, 1863, p. 45. M. Piot derived his informa- tion from the papal goldsmith Spagna, who, as a young appren- tice, had taken part in the proceedings.


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  • Two Lost Masterpieces of the Goldsmith's d4rt Mr. Talman, we are enabled to form some idea of their artistic merits from the drawings made at an earlier date and now occasionally brought to light in out-of-the-way libraries.

    Of the works of art which found their way to the melting pot in that holocaust of 1797 the most famous was probably the gold cope-clasp, variously called morse, formale, pectorale, bottone, etc., which had been executed by Benvenuto Cellini for his patron, Clement VII. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that this beauti- ful piece of jeweller's work was the foundation of all the artist's subsequent fortunes. The descrip- tion of his design, with the appreciative comments it elicited, the perils to which it was exposed, and the quarrels which resulted from it, fill many pages in the Autobiography, while in his treatise on the goldsmith's craft (Oreficeria) Benvenuto deals at length with the technical details of the execution of his plan and with the materials and jewels employed.2 Despite, however, the unique position which the morse must hold in any account of Cellini's artistic career, it has been generally believed that all trace of the design had perished.s M. Plon in preparing his magnificent monograph upon Cellini was unable to set before his readers even the roughest outline of the clasp, and the numerous commentators and editors of the Autobiography have been equally at a loss. For this reason it is satisfactory to find among Mr. Talman's drawings in the Museum Print Room three careful sketches of this famous masterpiece,4 which are inscribed as follows:-

    I. Obverse of the morse.-' The famous Pectorall of Gold made by Pope Clement ye 7th: adorned wt h Figures in Relievo Basso & Alto-relievo. In y ? middle is a pointed Diamond which they say cost y ~ said Pope 38000 Roman Scudi. It is sett w th 4 very fine Emerauds, 2 exceeding fine & large Saphirs, & 2 very fair Ruby-balasses. It is kept in ye Castle of St: Angelo, wh the Triple Crowns, & is not to be taken thence but when ye Pope sais Solemn Mass. This rare piece is valued at 15000 Sterling. y? workman was Benvenuto Cellini a sculptor and silversmith a Native of Tuscany. F. Bertoli delineavit.'

    2. Reverse.-' The back part of the said Pectoral shewing y: Arms & Impresses of Pope Clement, finely embossed on gold.

    Fr. Bertoli del:' 3. Rim of the morse.-' The Profile of y

    e same Pectoral adorn'd with Figures in Bass-relievo and finely enamell'd.'

    The Autobiography is, of course, well known and easily accessible, but I may be pardoned perhaps for reproducing here one or two of the more relevant passages. It was just before Easter 1529 that Pope Clement, as Cellini relates, told him that he destined him for 'a most important piece of work worthy of his best talents.'

    ' It is a button for my cope (bottone del piviale) which has to be made round like a trencher, and as big as a little trencher, one third of a cubit wide.5 Upon this I want you to represent a God the Father in half-relief, and in the middle to set that magnificent big diamond which you remember, together with several other gems of the greatest value. Caradosso began to make me one, but did not finish it. I want yours to be finished quickly, so that I may enjoy the use of it a little while. Go, then, and make me a fine model.' He had all