The Aldobrandini twelve

Ippolito Aldobrandini, in time Pope Clement VIII, commissioned twelve tazze, or elaborate table-top ados, which are known by his name. They were executed between 1573 and 1577, mostly likely by a northern (cherman?) artist working to an Italian design. They represent the twelve roman emperors featured in the histories of Suetonius (the statuette), and the major events of the reign of each (on the plate). The last time all twelve were together was 1861; the set was subsequently scattered, and, what is worse, some individual pieces were disassembled and reassembled again -- some wrongly.

(I would like to know why they were scattered, but have been unable to find the story so far; surely, they would have been more valuable as a set? Something odd must have transpired, but what? Inheritance, perhaps? As for the disassembly -- the explanation is simple: the owner had a mechanically-minded twelve year old son).

This one, in the possession of the Minneapolis Arts Institute (who?!), shows the figure of Augustus and the events from the reign of -- Caligula. See this page for a zoom-in view: the details are really impressive and the most amazing thing about it is its color: it's gilt silver, but somehow barely gilt: the color is the palest-yellow-tinged, extremely subtle and very beautiful. The chemist in me wants to know how this effect was achieved.

I have found two of these in Portugal: a complete one at Medeiros Almeida - of Emperor Tiberius, beautifully displayed allowing one a close-up stare; and an incomplete one (only the plate) at Arte Antigua, also well displayed if not well lit. There is another one at Victoria and Albert, but the VA website won't tell you which emperor they have. (Maybe it's an embarrassing emperor?)

(Nor will the VA let you zoom in on their tazza. Let the provincials struggle for cheap popularity, not us).

Another tazza was sold at an auction in July 2000 for 1.6 million bucks. At these sort of prices, and with public museums owning some, the twelve are not likely to be put together ever again.


Looking at the Arte Antiga tazza today, I discovered it was much richer gold than the Medeiros piece. It was also dented: perhaps that's your explanation: it had been dropped, damaged, and had to be regilt. But it was regilt by someone who did not know the original recipe and so came out yellow as an egg-yoke.

The workmaship, of course, remains extraordinary.


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