Two Silver Pieces and a Terracotta Acquired by the Rijksmuseum

10/01/12 - Acquisitions - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum - The Rijksmuseum has been holding two 17th century silver cups on deposit since 1970, which it has now purchased finally with help from several patrons [1].
These two objects (ill. 1 and 2), part of the Rothschild collection during the 19th century, were produced by the German sculptor and silversmith Christoph III Ritter and made him famous. They are made up of two different globes, the earth and the sky, each held by a kneeling masculine figure. Generally, Hercules is shown holding the world and Atlas the sky ; but here, Hercules bends under the weight of the heavens and it is the Emperor Julius Caesar who is carrying the earth, suggesting that Rome dominated the other great Empires of Antiquity, Assyria, Persia and Greece, whose names appear in the cartridge below the cup. The artist collaborated with the Flemish engraver and cartographer Jodocus Hondius, the Elder (1563-1612) and seems to have drawn his inspiration for the decorations on the base from the Dutch silversmith, Paulus van Vianen.

1. Christoph Ritter III (1610-1676)
Cup, the Earth Globe
held by Jules César, c.1645-1651
Gilded Silver
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Photo : Rijksmuseum

2. Christoph Ritter III (1610-1676)
Cup, the Sky Globe
held by Hercule, c.1645-1651
Gilded Silver
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Photo : Rijksmuseum

The production of these spheres corresponded to the taste at that time for science and the many explorations carried out then in which Dutch sailors and astronomers played an important role. Besides the work of Jodocus Hondius, cartography also progressed around 1600 thanks to explorers like Willem Barentsz and Cornelis de Houtman. The constellations were described in fact by Johannes Bayer who published Uranometria in 1603.
Nuremberg was a famous center for silver and goldsmith work. Christoph’s father, Jeremias Ritter (master in 1605, died in 1646), had executed two globes around 1620 which were engraved by John Hauer (today in the Swedish Royal collections), and at the same period, one of the most beautiful examples of this kind of object is the one by Christoph Jamnitzer (1563-1618) who was probably inspired by Jacopo Sansovino bronze. Another silversmith from this city, Andreas Bergmann designed a pair of cups around 1655 which is very comparable to that in the Rijksmuseum, auctioned off in New York in 1996 (Sotheby’s, 16 October 1996, lot 158). Augsborg was another German center, also famous in the 17th century : as seen in a work by Johannes Schmidt, produced before 1629 (held at the Grüne Gewölbe in Dresden) and also two globes created by Abraham II Drentwett around 1697-1699 (part of a Christie’s auction on 13 April 2012).

3. Anonymous
Our Lady of Sorrows, c.1500-1510
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Photo : Rijksmuseum

Another work which recently joined the museum collections is a terracotta bust, by an anonymous artist, no doubt Flemish, representing in a very realistic manner Our Lady of Sorrows (circa 1500-1510) (ill. 3). This acquisition was made possible by the BankGiro lottery. The museum holds other polychrome terracotta busts, like this elegant man (circa 1570-1590). One of the most famous terracotta busts is that of the future Emperor Charles V, dating from 1520 residing in Bruges at the Gruuthuse museum, attributed to the sculptor Konrad Meit. A comparison of the Virgin to these two masculine figures, both very stately, even static, underscores, in contrast, the supple flow of the draperies and the movement of Mary’s head. This piece was included in the exhibition A Divine Gift, presented in the Philips Wing of the museum until 5 March which shows, while awaiting its upcoming reopening, a selection of paintings and sculptures from the institution’s holdings among which there are some beautiful pieces of a Dutch Medieval Art collection.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, jeudi 12 janvier 2012


[1] With the support of the Rijksmuseum fund and the BankGiro Lottery ; also the Mondriaan Foundation and various other funds : the Vereniging Rembrandt Independent Art Fund and the Prins Bernhard Fonds, the SNS REAAL Fonds and, finally, the VSB Fonds.

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