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Mirror case - The Martelli Mirror

The Martelli Mirror

  • Object:

    Mirror case

  • Place of origin:

    Mantua (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1475-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Bronze, inlaid with gold and silver

  • Museum number:

    8717:1, 2-1863

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case 2 []

Profile figures of a satyr and bacchante face each other beneath a term representing the ancient fertility god, Priapus. A Latin inscription reads: NATVRA FOVET QUAE NECESSITAS VRGET ('Nature encourages what necessity demands'). Both the wording and the figures suggest that the relief is an allegory of reproduction.

It was once thought that the great Florentine sculptor Donatello (1386-1466) made the mirror. The Museum purchased it in 1863 from the Martelli family, with whom Donatello was associated. But the style of the piece differs from Donatello's other bronze reliefs. The exquisite detailing suggests that an accomplished goldsmith made it. A circular cutting from a document was discovered inside the mirror in the late 1950s. It was written largely in cipher. The contents of the text, together with a watermark, indicate that it came from the secret diplomatic archive in Milan. This suggests that the mirror was manufactured in Milan in the late 1400s. It also supports the view that Caradosso, a goldsmith and maker of plaquettes, made it. He was active in the city between 1475 and 1505.

Physical description

On the back, in relief, is an allegorical representation of fruitfulness, in which are half length figures of a nymph and satyr.

Place of Origin

Mantua (probably, made)


ca. 1475-1500 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Bronze, inlaid with gold and silver


Diameter: 17.3 cm of relief, Diameter: 2.1 cm overall

Object history note

The mirror is mentioned as in the Palazzo Martelli in 1824. See Pope-Hennessy p.326.
Purchased in Florence (Marchese Martelli, through W.B. Spence, £650.

Descriptive line

Mirror case, bronze with gold and silver, known as the Martelli Mirror, Italy, ca. 1475-1500

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Williamson, Paul, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 191p., ill. ISBN 1851771883.
Pope-Hennessy, John Catalogue of Italian sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum London, H.M.S.O. , 1964 no.359, pp 325-329
Brown, Clifford M. and Hickson, Sally "Caradosso Foppa (ca. 1452-1526/27)" in Arte Lombarda vol 119 1997/1 p. 14
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1863. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 40
Pope-Hennessy, John. "The Study of Italian Plaquettes", Italian Plaquettes, Studies in the History of Art, XXII, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1989, frontispiece and p. 27
Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille, Natur und Antike in der Renaissance, Frankfurt: Liebieghaus - Museum Alter Plastik, 1985.
Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.
Pope-Hennessy, John Wyndham and Santangelol Antonio. Italian Bronze Statuettes . London : Arts Council, 1961
Bronzetti Italiani del Rinascimento in mostra a Firenze, Firenze : Olschki, 1962
Grigaut, Paul L. (ed.) Decorative Arts of the Italian Renaissance, 1400-1600, Detroit, 1958
Meesters van het brons der Italiaanse Renaissance, Amsterdam : Het Rijksmuseum, 1961

Labels and date

MIRROR, known as The Martelli Mirror
About 1475-1500

This mirror was probably a marriage gift, and its intricate decoratin suggests that it may have been made by a master goldsmith. The satyr holding a cup (left) and the bacchante pressing milk from her breast (right) represent an allegory of reproduction. The mirror itself takes the form of a polished steel plate on the back.

Italy, probably Mantua

Bronze, gold and silver

Inscribed in Latin, 'Nature encourages what necessity demands'

Museum no. 8717-1863 [2008]


Bronze; Gold; Silver

Subjects depicted

Satyr; Cup


Sculpture Collection

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