The Martelli Mirror thumbnail 1
The Martelli Mirror thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery

This object consists of 2 parts, some of which may be located elsewhere.

The Martelli Mirror

Mirror Case
ca. 1475-1500 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.


object details
Category
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Mirror Case
  • Cutting Found Inside Mirror
Materials and Techniques
Bronze, inlaid with gold and silver
Brief Description
Mirror case, bronze with gold and silver, known as the Martelli Mirror, Italy, ca. 1475-1500
Physical Description
On the back, in relief, is an allegorical representation of fruitfulness, in which are half length figures of a nymph and satyr.
Dimensions
  • Of relief diameter: 17.3cm
  • Overall diameter: 2.1cm
Gallery Label
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)
Object history
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.
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.
Associated Object
1707-1869 (Depiction)
Bibliographic References
  • 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, 196233
  • Grigaut, Paul L. (ed.) Decorative Arts of the Italian Renaissance, 1400-1600, Detroit, 1958233
  • Meesters van het brons der Italiaanse Renaissance, Amsterdam : Het Rijksmuseum, 196134
Collection
Accession Number
8717:1, 2-1863

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record createdNovember 18, 2002
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