Pietro Aldobrandini, an aristocratic Italian cardinal and patron of the arts, is hosting a grand meal at his private residence. Surveying the dining room, one of his guests, Fabio Masetti, ambassador to the Duke of Modena and Reggio, is impressed by the awe-inspiring collection of silver on display, glittering in the candlelight. The following day, Masetti writes to his boss, singling out a set of monumental silver objects that caught his eye: “I observed 12 [large serving dishes] with the 12 Caesars, and within sculpted all their triumphs and famous accomplishments, valued at 2,000 scudi.”
His words describe the so-called 'Silver Caesars' – a set of 12 silver-gilt 'standing cups' that together comprise a stunning example of Renaissance silverware, arguably the most important suite of silver to have survived from the period. “There is a lot of beautiful Renaissance silver, but nothing quite like the Silver Caesars,” says Julia Siemon, curator of a spellbinding exhibition about them at Waddesdon Manor, the 19th-Century French-style chateau in Buckinghamshire, England, built by a member of the Rothschild banking dynasty whose father owned one. “Really, they are unique: there are no other Renaissance objects like them, no other complete suite.”
Historically, the Silver Caesars have been known as the 'Aldobrandini Tazze', because they once belonged to Cardinal Pietro (1571-1621). A 'tazza' is a shallow, ornamental cup, mounted on a foot, which derives its shape from ancient drinking vessels; 'tazze' is the plural form.
Seeing the 12 tazze together in Waddesdon’s White Drawing Room – reunited for this exhibition for the first time in 150 years – is a magnificent sight. Each cup is around 16in (41cm) high and consists of a statuette of a Roman emperor standing in the centre of a dish decorated with four intricate scenes marking important moments from his life. Every dish in turn rests upon an ornate foot.
There are 48 narrative scenes in total, each illustrating a specific passage from The Twelve Caesars, a famous literary work by the Roman historian Suetonius, written in the early Second Century AD, chronicling the lives of Julius Caesar and Rome’s first 11 emperors....MUCH MORE