Ewer with the Bacchanal and Procession of Sea Gods, ca. 1565
grisaille and camaïeu enamels
H 10 5/8 inches / 27 cm
⌀ max 4 1/3 inches / 11 cm
spread 5 inches / 12.8 cm
This ewer is an exceptional example of the 16th century Limoges workshops’ pre-eminence in production of religious and secular objects in the technique of grisaille enamel. At the fastening of the handle, it bears the monogram of the Master I.C. (Jean Court?) – one of the most skillful Limoges enamel painters of the 16th century, known especially for his grisaille oeuvre. Master I.C.’s works are represented in major museum collections such as the Louvre, the Frick Collection and the Walters Art Museum, among others. This piece has an illustrious provenance, coming from the collection of the celebrated banker and collector Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild. The son of banker Benedict Goldschmidt he married Mina Karoline Freiin von Rothschild and with the uniting of the two great Frankfurt banking families he became the richest man in Germany. He was enobled by Kaiser Wilhelm I.
Grisaille enamel from Limoges
The luxury items from Limoges, made for the court and noblemen, were often painted in an elaborate Mannerist style, consisting of highly detailed figurative scenes and richly decorated borders. Not actually intended for serving meals, these objects were displayed alongside other works of art, in the public areas of wealthy residences. The imagery depicted on them, as in the case of this particular ewer, was most often drawn from classical mythology via compositions borrowed from German, French or Italian Mannerist prints.
The grisaille style, with its use of black and white, multiple shades of grey and neutral, muted color, was introduced in the first half of the 16th century. Its origins might be traced to the black and white prints the designs were originally taken from, as well as to the fact that this style was relatively easy to fire. The grisaille was made by firing a coat of very dark enamel, then layering it with coats of white of various thickness and with the design delineated in black, before the next firing. Afterwards, other colors would be added, to boost the compositional highlights. In addition, there are parts of this piece made using the technique of camaïeu, which features transparent enamel as the first layer, instead of the dark one.
Construction and iconography
The ovoid body of this exquisite ewer consists of two halves, connected by a torus molding (diameter 11 cm) with repairs. It rests on a cone-shaped foot (diameter 8.2 cm), linked by a flattened molding. The neck of the ewer extends into an undulating lip, inscribed I.C.. A tubular arched handle extends from the torus molding to the rim of the lip.
In the lower (main) half of the ewer’s body there is a frieze-like bacchic procession moving from left to right. In the center (under the spout) is depicted the drunken Silenus who rides a donkey, supported by two satyrs. In front of this dynamic group of figures there are several other satyrs, respectively depicted playing a pan pipe, a trumpet and carrying a dish while also holding the ends of Silenus’ robe. Another group of figures includes an elderly man kneeling in front of a goat, which is ridden by a child presented with a cup held by another child. This frieze of figures is painted against a neutral black background to give the illusion of depth, with occasional blades of grass on the ground. This composition relates to celebrated renaissance compositions, notably the Bacchanal with Drunken Silenus by Raphael (or Giulio Romano) engraved by Agostino Veneziano (1490-1540).
The upper part of the ewer shows a denser composition – a swirling group of sea monsters (possibly a triumph scene of Thetis or Galatea) and other creatures; two stags, a bull ridden by a masked and horned satyr, an elderly female centaur woman with bat’s wings, a triton and a nereid, a dolphin’s head and a nereid riding a goat, a centaur and a dolphin. The figures are surrounded by undulating lines delivering the impression of whirling waves.
The neck and the foot of the object are decorated with large white acanthus leaves with green accents and gold rinceaux. Cornflowers, rosettes and golden rays embellish the zones under the handle and the inner surfaces of handle and foot, while the white and gold scrolls adorn the lips of the ewer. The outer surface of the handle is adorned with a twisted cord.
Baron Maximilian von Goldschmidt
Baron Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (1857-1940) was a German-Jewish banker and art collector who, at one point, was considered the richest person in the German Empire. He started collecting art after spending time in Paris as a young man and collecting became his main occupation until the end of his life.
After the National Socialists assumed power, Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild faced increasing anti-Semitic measures. On September 5, 1938, he was forced to sell his palace (“Rothschild-Palais,” located at Bockenheimer Landstrasse Nr. 10). And on November 11, 1938 Maximilian was compelled to sell his art collection, which contained nearly 1,500 objects to the city of Frankfurt. Months before the dispersal of his collection, he had commissioned an inventory which was prepared by an art historian, Dr. Hans Sauermann, and a Berlin-based art dealer, Ferdinand Knapp. The present ewer is listed in this inventory as G.R. 772 1 farbige Limoges (Schale) Kanne sig. J.C. Bacchanten (“1 colored Limoges (bowl) jug sig[ned] J.C. Bacchants”) with a corresponding purchase price of 1,500 Reichsmarks, likely an intentionally low value (fig. 1).
After his death in 1940, Baron Maximilian’s palace was converted into a public museum as a branch of the Museum für Kunsthandwerk (now the Museum Angewandte Kunst) where the majority of the Goldschmidt-Rothschild collection was publicly displayed. The remaining portion of his collection was transferred to the Städtische Galerie.
During the war the Nazi Party moved the Goldschmidt-Rothschild collection, along with other valuable art, to various secure storage locations. Therefore, despite the bombing of the Rothschild-Palais in 1944 the vast majority of the G.R. collection remained intact.
After the war, the heirs of Baron Goldschmidt-Rothschild requested the return of his stolen property. Due to the meticulous cataloging by the Baron and the Museum für Kunsthandwerk the process of restitution was direct and by February 1949 the majority of his art objects were restituted and shipped to the United States where they were sold at public auction by the Park-Bernet Galleries in New York on March 10, 1950. This restitution case, although not fully completed, marks one of the earliest successful legal returns of Nazi looted property. The New York Times announced the auction with the headline “Art Nazis ‘Bought’ Will be Sold Here: Reclaimed Collection to be Auctioned in 2 Parts.” The present ewer was included in that sale where it was purchased by the late archeologist and art dealer Ernest Brummer.
The Museum Angewandte Kunst is planning a Goldschmidt-Rothschild Collection exhibition for the Fall of 2022 and has requested this work. The exhibition will explore the forming, forced sale, and restitution of Baron Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’s collection. ❖