The Aldobrandini Tazza
- Place of origin:
Italy (probably, made)
- Materials and Techniques:
Silver-gilt, embossed, chased and cast
- Credit Line:
Dr W.L. Hildburgh Bequest
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Silver, room 69, case 6
The central figure modelled and cast (the cloak cast separately), the base of this figure engraved '*DOMITIANVS*'; the bowl embossed and chased with scenes from Roman history; the foot considered to be a nineteenth-century replacement.
Place of Origin
Italy (probably, made)
Materials and Techniques
Silver-gilt, embossed, chased and cast
Marks and inscriptions
19th century French import and export marks.
Each of the scenes on the bowl is numbered on the inside of the rim.
The Arabic numerals '1' to '4' distinguish the four scenes embossed round the inside of the bowl. These numbers are engraved discreetly on the rim of the bowl.
There are several different location marks on the bowl and the base for the figure of the emperor:
On the detachable hollow cylinder around the base of the figure of the emperor:
two vertical scratched marks and four dots beside them
On the base of this hollow cylinder, ten vertical scratched marks and four dots below them
On the cylindrical plinth beneath the figure of the emperor, a single vertical scratched mark and three dots beside this
On the underside of the plate on which the emperor stands, seven vertical scratched marks and, apart from these, two curved ones.
On the underside of the bowl: four vertical scratched marks on the plate at the centre; an 'x' scratched on the embossed section between narrative scenes 2 and 3.
The foot has two parallel scratches on the underside of the base and a single vertical scratched mark at the top of the base section beside the screw hole.
Height:, Diameter:, Diameter:, Weight: 2910.2 g
Object history note
One of a set of twelve standing dishes ('tazze' in Italian) bearing figures of the first twelve Caesars of Imperial Rome. Made about 1560-70, they are one of the most spectacular groups of 16th century silver to survive. They were owned in the late 16th century by a member of the Aldobrandini family, possibly Ippolito Aldobrandini the Elder, later Pope Clement VIII, no doubt to make an impressive display in his palace. The set had an eventful history. They were still a set of twelve in 1861 but six of them, including this one, were later bought by the 19th century Austrian art dealer and collector Frédéric Spitzer (1815-90), who 'improved' them by apparently replacing the original stems with versions modelled on a different 16th century stem. Despite these vicissitudes, all twelve survive today in different collections across the world.
The V&A tazza shows the Emperor Domitian standing on a fluted column in the centre of this bowl. The four scenes embossed around him have traditionally been identified as scenes from his life, and the V&A tazza considered to be one of the few in which emperor and bowl correspond. A recent examination by the Classicist Mary Beard and the silver expert Timothy Schroder has cast doubt on this interpretation. The scene labelled '1' shows a woman and baby in a chariot fleeing a forest fire, an event that occurred to the infant emperor Tiberius according to the Roman historian Suetonius (Lives, chapter 6). The shields and banners held by soldiers in the other scenes rarely allude to specific forms of heraldry, but in the scene labelled '2' a banner on the left bears the distinctive pine-cone motif of the town of Augsburg. This would again link the narrative to the emperor Tiberius, as many of his campaigns were fought against the peoples of Southern Germany.
Ironically, the original emperor on the V&A bowl (Vitellius) was removed in the 1950s (when it was still owned by Walter Leo Hildburgh) and replaced by the figure of Domitian from a tazza in Toronto, in an attempt to correct a mismatch. (The figure of the emperor Vitellius was transferred to a tazza in the Metropolitan Museum, New York; the figure of Tiberius is in a private collection and its present whereabouts are unknown.)
Silver, gilded, the bowl embossed and chased with scenes from Roman history, the cast figure of a Roman emperor in the centre of the bowl
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Hayward, J. F. The Aldobrandini Tazzas, Burlington Magazine, October 1970, pp. 669-74.
Works of art from the Wernher Collection, Christie's London, Sale 6293, 7 July 2000, lot 19.
Detailed overview of the commission and fortuna of the tazze, with extensive bibliography.
Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. London, Penguin.
Labels and date
THE ALDOBRANDINI TAZZA
The dish and figure about 1570-92; the stem and foot about 1530-70, and from a SPANISH monstrance.
The figure and dish probably by a GERMAN or NETHERLANDISH craftsman
One of twelve tazze (cups) belonging to Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini, elected Pope Clement VIII in 1592. Each of these tazze bears the figure of a Roman Emperor, this one being Domitian. The dish of the tazza is chased with scenes from Suetonius' life of the Emperor: 1. Domita, wife of Domitian, travelling in Germany; 2. Domitian fighting against the Dacian and Quadi in Pannonia; 3. Triumph of Domitian; 4. Domitian receiving the submission of the Germans. The marriage between the foot and the dish was made by the Paris dealer and antiquary Frédéric Spitzer, in whose collection the piece was in the nineteenth century. [1980-2000]
This is one of a set of 12 tazze (standing dishes) bearing figures of the first 12 Caesars of Imperial Rome. Made about 1560-70, they are one of the most spectacular groups of 16th-century silver to survive. They were owned in the late 16th century by a member of the Aldobrandini family, possibly Ippolito Aldobrandini the Elder, later Pope Clement VIII, no doubt to make an impressive display in his palace. The Emperor Domitian stands on a fluted column in the centre of this bowl, which is decorated with scenes from his life.
The set has had an eventful history. They were still a set of 12 in 1861 but 6 of them, including this one, were later bought by the 19th-century Austrian art dealer and collector Frédéric Spitzer (1815-90). He 'improved' them by apparently replacing the original stems with versions modelled on a different 16th-century stem. All 12 survive but in different collections across the world. 
Gilded; Cast; Chased; Embossed
Metalwork; Food vessels & Tableware