Circular salver; slightly gilded silver; embossed and chased; circular medallion in centre engraved and enamelled with arms of Maurice, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau (1566-1625) surmounted by three crests and inscription; convex band with three lion masks, strapwork, fruit and laurel wreath; three oval panels in bottom divided by terminal winged figures, fruit and scrolls; panels contain Jonah cast up by whale, Daniel in the lion's den and another; edge with cherubs with strapwork and trophies of fruit between.
This object was collected by Anselm von Rothschild and bequeathed to the British Museum by Ferdinand Anselm Rothschild.
Mark: Hieronimus Berckhaussen
What is it?
chased embossed engraved enamelled stamped gilded
How big is it?
57 cm wide, 57 cm high, 57 cm deep, and it weighs 3.3 kg
Where is it?
London / The British Museum / Room 2A / Case 3b 1
Detailed Curatorial Notes
Text from Tait 1988:-
Origin: Nuremberg; soon after 1610; mark of an unidentified goldsmith, HB, probably Hieronimus Berckhaussen (master 1598, died 1656).
Marks: The pair of marks, the town-mark of Nuremberg and the maker's mark of the mongram HB, are found struck close together on the ewer, under the lip of the spout; and on the basin, beneath the figure of Jonah, on the undecorated frame of the oval reserve.
(i) Assay mark for Nuremberg, 1600-50 (R3 3761).
(ii) The conjoined initials HB in a circular stamp: possibly used by Hieronimus Berckhaussen (master 1598, died 1656); (R34096).
Provenance: The ewer and basin were made soon after 1610, to the order of the parents of Johann Moritz von Nassau-Siegen, with the money sent as a christening present at Michaelmas 1604 by Prince Maurice of Orange-Nassau, the famous Dutch Captain-General and Lord Admiral of the Dutch Forces, Stadtholder of Holland, Utrecht and Zeeland.
Following the death of Johann Moritz's father in 1623, the ewer and basin are listed in an inventory of silver and other precious objects belonging to his mother, Margaretha von Holstein-Sonderburg, dated 3 October 1625.
By inheritance to Johann Moritz, who subsequently ruled as Stadtholder of Cleves from 1647 until his death in 1679, and who in 1665 presented the ewer and basin to the Reformed Church of Cleves ‘ad sacrum Baptismatis usum consecravit Anno 1665, die 26. Juli.’ (‘consecrated for use at holy Baptisms, 26 July 1665’.).
By the end of 1868 the Reformed Church of Cleves had successfully concluded the negotiations for the sale of the ewer and basin to ‘ein Frankfurter Herr’ - an unidentified person who was, perhaps, a dealer. By 1872 the ewer and basin belonged to Baron Anselm von Rothschild in Vienna (cat. no. 537), passing by inheritance to his son Baron Ferdinand Rothschild (d. 1898).
Commentary: The detailed history of this ewer and basin - and its remarkable transformation in 1869-71 - is of such exceptional importance, for the light it sheds not only on the economics of patronage and social customs in the seventeenth century but also on the skill of fakers in Germany around 1870, that a full account, together with a discussion of the attendant complexities, is set out below. It incorporates the archival evidence preserved in The Hague and Wiesbaden covering the period 1604-25, which was published for the first time in Ter Molen, 1979, and without which the firm dating of this ewer and basin between 1610 and 1625 would not have been possible.
3 October 1625 is the date of the Inventory of silver and other precious objects belonging to the recently widowed mother of Johann Moritz, Margaretha von Holstein-Sonderburg (1583-1658), and it provides the first written record of this ewer and basin: “Ein gross Beckenn mit dem Uranischen Wapffen sampt seiner Giesskanden welcher sein Excellentz Printz Moritz verehrett . . . 21 Mark” (preserved in the Koninklijk Huisarchief, den Haag, inv. no. 4/1293). This entry may be translated: “one large basin with the coat-of-arms of the House of Orange with its ewer which his Excellency Prince Maurice had presented ...21 Mark” [a weight of approximately 4,900 g].
This documentary evidence can be relied upon because the list was compiled as a result of the demise in 1623 of Johann Moritz's father, the founder of the House of Nassau-Siegen, and usually known as Johanns VII des Mittleren (1561-1623). Johann Moritz was, therefore, only nineteen years old when he lost his father but his mother, who was Johanns VII's second wife, lived on for another thirty-five years, having been only twenty-one when she gave birth to Johann Moritz in June 1604 at their castle of Dillenburg.
Although the 1625 Inventory does not state in which year Prince Maurice of Orange had presented the ewer and basin, the enamelled roundel with the Prince's coat-of-arms bears the date 1604 and so it might have seemed self-evident that they were made and presented on the happy occasion of the birth of Johann Moritz in 1604. In fact, the archival evidence proves that such an assumption would be incorrect, despite the fact that the Nassau-Siegen family chronicle (preserved in the Koninklijk Huisarchief, The Hague, inv. no. 4/1318a) confirms that Prince Maurice was one of the illustrious godparents on that occasion - another was the Landgrave Maurice of Hesse. Prince Maurice was unable to attend the christening ceremony because his forces were heavily engaged at the time in fighting Spinola's army at the siege of Sluis. In his letter to the parents, dated 23 August 1604 (Koninklijk Huisarchief, The Hague, inv. no. 4/1307), the Prince expressed his happiness at the news of the birth of their son and shortly afterwards, at Michaelmas, his letter of credit conveyed to them a large sum of money for the purchase of plate as a christening present (preserved in the Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, Abt. 190, 2282). The money, which was the equivalent of a little over 642 Reichsthaler, was immediately converted and transferred through a certain Jost Tollekens in Amsterdam to pay the military expenses of Johanns VII's two sons, Count Johann Ernst and Count Adolphus, both of whom were fighting in the service of the States-General against the Spaniards.
Consequently, the two half-brothers of the new babe reaped the immediate benefit of the christening present from Prince Maurice and, despite the date of 1604 on the enamelled armorial roundel, the ewer and basin were not made in that year. Confirmation of this fact was found in the Nassau-Siegen family Inventory of 1610 (preserved in the Koninklijk Huisarchief, The Hague, inv. no. 4/1279) where there is a specific reference, firstly to the large sum of money received in 1604 from Prince Maurice for a christening present but redirected to Amsterdam and, secondly, to the need to rectify the matter without delay. Therefore the ewer and basin had still not been purchased by 1610, six years after the Prince's present had been received. However, as the fortunes of the Nassau-Siegen family were steadily improving, there is good reason to deduce that the order for the ewer and basin would have been given soon after 1610.
The decision to favour a goldsmith in Nuremberg is probably without any special significance since it is known (from the family records) that Johann Moritz's father had previously ordered in 1604 two silver salt-cellars from “Thobias Schurer, Goldschmied zu Nürnberg”. The family, like so many Protestant rulers in Europe, probably tended to regard Nuremberg as the best centre for this type of spectacular plate.
Hitherto no publication has assessed the full significance of the enamelled armorial roundel in the centre of the basin, which may contribute towards a more precise dating of this historic ewer and basin. Curiously, the full-scale descriptions (with illustrations) in Weerth 1857, in Schestag 1872 and in Read 1902 (and in Dalton 1927, revised edition) do not record the existence on the roundel of the date 1604 (engraved and enamelled immediately below the shield). Although less conspicuous than the initials MPZ V GZN (above the shield) it is nevertheless quite legible and boldly incised; furthermore, as the roundel shows no sign of alteration or interference, there is no reason to doubt that the date is original and contemporary with the initials above the shield. In Ter Molen 1979 it is assumed (p. 251) that, when the ewer and basin were made in Nuremberg between 1610 and 1625, the date 1604 was incorporated into the design of the roundel in order that the year of Johann Moritz's birth would be commemorated on the roundel. It may also be argued that it would have been a tactful way of recording the date of Prince Maurice's gift - even though the silver ewer and basin were not made until later.
However, it should not be forgotten that the roundel is made quite separately and would undoubtedly have been engraved and enamelled by a specialist craftsman, who probably had no connection with the workshop of the Nuremberg goldsmith responsible for the ewer and basin. The roundel would, therefore, have been created entirely independently. Theoretically, it could have been made in 1604, perhaps even supplied by the specialist atelier that normally made the badges and other armorial plaques for the Prince and his large household at the Binnenhof in The Hague, the traditional residence of the Counts of Holland and the Court of the Princes of Orange. Maurice had succeeded his father, William the Silent, when the latter had been assassinated in 1584. Certainly, the complicated heraldic details and tinctures of the Prince's coat-of-arms have been meticulously observed and, although these could have been accurately copied almost anywhere, there remains the possibility that this applied roundel, with its curiously old-fashioned, un-Mannerist double frame of plain, and imitation-wire, concentric rings, was already in existence when the basin and its accompanying ewer were ordered from Nuremberg soon after 1610.
That order is unlikely to have been later than 1613, because the Prince's coat-of-arms is not depicted with the Garter. After King James I of England had conferred the Order of the Garter on the Prince in 1613, the armorial shield of the Prince was encircled by the Garter, as can be seen in the illustrations of the 1613 and 1615 medals of Prince Maurice (see G. van Loon, ‘Beschryving der Nederlandsche historipenningen’, II,s’ Graavenhaage, 1726, p. 87; A. W. Franks and H. A. Grueber (eds), ‘Medallic Illustrations of the History of Great Britain and Ireland’, I, London, 1885, p. 205, no. 39). If, therefore, the roundel was made as part of the order for the ewer and basin, then it is most unlikely that the commission could be later than the conferring of the Order of the Garter on Prince Maurice in 1613.
Certainly the proposed date of manufacture - between 1610 and 1613 - would agree with the stylistic evidence of the embossed and chased decoration, which can be related closely to the tankard with emblematical figures, dated 1592, by the Nuremberg goldsmith Eustachius Hohmann (on loan to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg - see ‘Wenzel Jamnitzer und die Nürnberger Goldschmiedekunst 1500-1700’, exh. cat., Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, 1985, p. 259, no. 82). The influence of Paulus II Flindt's designs is also particularly strong, especially some of his engravings dated 1593 and 1594 (see ‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, pp. 386-7, nos 412 and 414). However, the shape of the ewer - so often the best guide to dating - has changed so radically since it was first made that it no longer provides a sound basis for comparative dating, as the next chapter in the history of this ewer and basin demonstrates conclusively.
At the age of forty-three, Johann Moritz von Nassau-Siegen became Stadtholder of the Duchy of Cleves, after spending the previous ten years as the Dutch Governor of Brazil. For the next thirty-two years, until his death in 1679, Johann Moritz continued to rule the Duchy of Cleves and gained the reputation of being an enlightened patron of the arts and sciences, creating the famous Gardens of Cleves and bringing in the Dutch Baroque architect Jacob van Campen to design their layout. In 1665, after eighteen years as Stadtholder and seven years after his mother had died, Johann Moritz decided to present the ewer and basin to the Reformed Church of Cleves. The document recording the church's grateful acceptance of this handsome benefaction is still preserved (in the Archiv der Evangelischen Gemeinde Cleve, A VII I, vol. 3, Presbyterialprotokolle 1600-71):
“Furst Mauritz Churf. Statthalter
verehrt der gemeinde zum gebrauch
des h. tauffs ein verguldet beken
1665 Aug. 5
H. Hundius und H Dr Steinberg referiren, dass sie nahmens der gemeinde Ihr Furstliche gnaden Fursten Mauritz von Nassau unterthenigst gedankt, fur dero gnedigste donation eines uberguldeten taufbekens sampt giesskanten zum gebrauch des h. tauffs in der gemeinde allhir zu gebrauchen, ohne unterschied welche kinder es auch seyn. Welche donation folgender gestalt geschehn dass selbiges silbernes uberguldetes beken sampt giesskanten Ihre furstliche gnaden Churfurstlicher Statthalter der gemeinde zur bedienung des h. tauffs aus anlas eines von Ihr Furstl. gnaden uber tauff gehobenes kind, zugehorend dem WohlEdelgeb. H. von Lohe seiner F. G. Hofmeistern verehrt hat zusammen wiegend . . . [missing]. . .
cum hac inscriptione auff dem untersten theil des fusses am beken Patinam hanc inauratam quam Illustrissimus Johannes Mauritius Princeps Nassovius Anno 1604 17/27 Juny in quo natus ab Illustrissimo Principe Arausiaco Mauritio in memoriam suscepti baptismi recepit, in eandem memoriam Ecclesiae Reformatae Clivensi ad sacrum baptismatis usum consecravit Anno 1665. die 26. Julii.”
From this document it emerges that the Stadtholder's presentation of the ewer and basin took place on 26 July 1665, and that a Latin inscription on the foot of the basin recorded two other facts concerning this gift, namely that it was received from the Most Illustrious Prince Maurice of Orange in memory of Johann Moritz's own baptism in June 1604, and that it should be consecrated by the Reformed Church of Cleves for use at holy baptisms.
From July 1665 until the end of 1868 the ewer and basin remained in the Reformed Church of Cleves, and by the middle of the nineteenth century was being mentioned as one of the treasures of Cleves in books on its history - for example, in G. von Velsen's ‘Die Stadt Cleve’, which was published in 1846. However, the Reformed Church of Cleves was severely criticised two years later, in a letter dated 17 June 1848 from Professor Gottfried Kinkel, an art historian ‘an der preuss. Rheinuniversität’, which was published in the local newspaper, the ‘Clevisches Wochenblatt’, no. 50 (quoted in extenso in Ter Molen 1979, p. 263); the letter complained that permission to study the ewer and basin had been refused.
The next reference to the ewer and basin occurred in a biographical study of Johann Moritz von Nassau-Siegen by L. Driesen, which was published in Berlin in 1849; it provides vital confirmation that, apart from the addition of the foot (and its inscription) to the basin, the ewer had also been altered - presumably in 1665 at the time of the presentation to the Reformed Church of Cleves - because it bore on the lid (now lost) the arms of Johann Moritz with the cross of St John and the Order of the Elephant (“das Wappen des Fürsten Moritz mit dem Johanniterkruze und dem Elephanten-Orden halt”). Eight years later a full description of the ewer and basin, together with a large lithograph illustration, was published in Ernst aus'm Weerth 1857. This is the first surviving pictorial record, and it provides unique evidence of the shape and condition of the ewer and basin while still in the possession of the Reformed Church of Cleves.
The ewer is depicted as having a lid decorated with a band of ornament to match the foot but also having, as a finial, the heraldic figure of a seated lion supporting with its upraised paws a shield with the coat-of-arms of Johann Moritz (as described by L. Driesen in 1849). This coat-of-arms must, therefore, have been added by the Stadtholder Johann Moritz - probably in 1665 and presumably commissioned from a local goldsmith shortly before the date of the formal presentation on 26 July 1665. However, the abnormal appearance of the ewer is so curious and unlike the designs favoured at Nuremberg around 1600 that it is necessary to postulate another major change: that the neck had been removed in 1665 in order that the ewer should have a large functional opening that could be more easily filled with water and then closed with a lid, and that the spout and handle had been moved downwards and attached to the shoulders of the body (at the front and back).
There is overwhelming evidence to support the view that the ewer originally looked more like the example in the early seventeenth-century design for a travelling service by Jakob Mores of Hamburg (preserved in the Brandenburg Kunstkammer and now in the Kunstbibliothek, Berlin - see J. F. Hayward, ‘Virtuoso Goldsmiths and the Triumphs of Mannerism 1540-1620’, Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, London, 1976, p. 355, pl. 185). Although the relevant contemporary designs from Nuremberg are, perhaps, a little earlier, they share all the essential features of the Jakob Mores type: for example, the Johann Sibmacher print of 1599 (‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, pp. 390-1, no. 428), the Paulus II Flindt design of 1594 (‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, p. 388, no. 419) and the Georg Wechter the Elder etched design of 1578 (‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, p. 382, no. 396; also Hayward 1976, p. 354, pl. 177). Similarly, the few extant Nuremberg silver-gilt ewers confirm the view that a spout of this design would not have been attached to the body of the ewer at the extraordinary angle shown in the 1857 lithograph but would have been attached to the top of the narrow cylindrical neck, as, for example, on Nikolas Schmidt's late sixteenth-century ewer, which has been preserved, with its companion basin, among the Hapsburg collections since before 1620 (when first inventoried) and is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (see E. Kris, ‘Golschmeidearbeiten des Mittelalters, der Renaissance und des Barock. I Teil: Arbeiten in Gold und Silber’, Publikationen aus den Kunsthistorischen Summlungen in Wien, Band 5, Vienna, 1932, pp. 34-6, nos 50-1, pl. 39 for three views of the ewer; see also Hayward 1976, p. 383, pl. 478).
Whilst there can be no doubt that this fundamental transformation of the ewer's appearance took place in 1665, one small area of uncertainty remains: it is not clear whether the whole of the lid was created de novo or whether the lower part (embossed to match the foot of the ewer) could have been retained from the original base of the neck. As the lid was apparently totally destroyed soon after 1868, the question can never be resolved, but it is most unlikely that the upper part, with the heraldic lion finial, predates the presentation in July 1665 by more than a few months.
Equally lost for ever is Johann Moritz's addition to the basin, which, according to the 1857 description, comprised a foot attached by three screws to the underside of the basin. The height of the new foot was stated to be ‘3 Zoll’ (about 7.5 cm) and on the underside it was engraved with the Latin inscription:
“Patinam hanc inauratam quam Illustrissimus Johannes Mauritius Princeps Nassovius Anno 1604 17/27 Juni, in quo natus, ab Illustrissimo Principe Arausiaco Mauritio in memoriam suscepti baptismi recepit, in eandem memoriam Ecclesiae Reformatae Clivensi ad sacrum Baptismatis usum consecravit Anno 1665 die 26. Juli.”
This 1665 foot was evidently removed soon after 1868 and was, no doubt, melted down along with the armorial lid (on the ewer). The tell-tale signs of the three points of attachment remain on the raised boss at the centre of the basin: the three holes are almost square and, on the underside, each is surrounded by a faint circle, the scuff mark of a metal 'washer' (?). These three square holes correspond with three small square recesses in the base-metal on the reverse of the attached armorial roundel. Consequently the craftsman who was commissioned to attach the inscribed foot to the basin in 1665 seems to have fixed three screws to the reverse of the armorial roundel, passing them through the three cut-out squares in the raised boss, and then, using three small circular 'washers', fastened them securely with three nuts. The very thick, almost massive, metal plate on the reverse of the silver roundel (with its engraved and enamelled coat-of-arms) might be original or it might have been added at this time, and in the latter case the curious double frame of two concentric rings (one plain, the other decorated with a 'wire' motif) might also date from the same time. Certainly, an armorial roundel is not normally attached to the raised boss in this manner; in most extant examples, the thin silver roundel is laid in position on the boss and its narrow rim of silver is folded down and pressed over the circumference to secure it in position - with, or without 'claws'.
Finally, it should be noted that the short central screw currently on the reverse of the armorial roundel is not original but of late nineteenth-century origin. This interpretation is confirmed when the central circular hole in the raised boss is examined on the underside of the basin: the circular hole obliterates the middle part of the old seventeenth-century assay sample mark. It seems likely that the central screw and its quatrefoil nineteenth-century nut were introduced when Johann Moritz's 1665 foot (with Latin inscription) was removed soon after 1868 and the three screws were detached from the back of the armorial roundel, in which they were embedded.
The alterations carried out to the ewer and basin soon after 1868 were the direct consequence of the Reformed Church of Cleves' decision in 1868 to negotiate the sale of Johann Moritz's historic gift of 1665. By the end of the year, their negotiations were successfully concluded and the sale was reported on 5 January 1869 in the ‘Neues Clevisches Volksblatt’, no. 2: “In den letzen Wochen nun hat ein Frankfurter Herr diese, unter welchen sie in den Besitz derselben gelangt war, recht wichtigen Antiquitäten, deren Silberwerth sich kaum auf 300 Thlr. belaufen mochte, für die Summe von 7000 Thlr. käuflich erworben.” This newspaper report indicates that, although the intrinsic value of the silver was thought to be probably no more than 300 thalers, the ewer and basin had been sold to an anonymous gentleman in Frankfurt for 7,000 thalers.
The sale by the Reformed Church of Cleves in 1868-9 is, therefore, reliably established, though the details of the sale have not yet been confirmed nor is the identity of the Frankfurt buyer yet established. He was probably a well-known dealer, who was in the habit of acquiring important antiquities for members of the international group of distinguished collectors such as Baron Anselm von Rothschild in Vienna. Between 1869 and 1872 the ewer and basin had not only entered Baron Anselm's collection but had been photographed ready for inclusion among the small selection of items to be illustrated in the Baron's privately printed ‘Catalogue’ (Schestag 1872). This reliable visual record of the ewer and basin, once more transformed, confirms that they have undergone no changes since 1872.
The second dramatic transformation in the appearance of the ewer and the equally significant but less radical alterations to the basin can, therefore, be pinpointed to the period immediately following the departure of the ewer and basin from the custody of the Reformed Church of Cleves. The purchaser - the 'Frankfurter Herr' - was evidently concerned to recreate the original appearance of the ewer and basin and so to remove all the evidence that linked them to Johann Moritz von Nassau-Siegen and to the Reformed Church of Cleves. Indeed, this destructive action may have been part of an agreed understanding at the time of the negotiations for the sale. The heraldic lid of the ewer and the inscribed foot of the basin were completely removed, and presumably melted down. Being original, the 1604 armorial roundel of Maurice, Prince of Orange-Nassau, was allowed to remain on the basin - indeed, this documentary evidence was probably doubly welcome since it would have diverted attention away from Cleves and focused it on The Hague. All information about the history of the ewer and basin must have been deliberately suppressed by the Frankfurt purchaser when he arranged for them to be sold to Baron Anselm von Rothschild in Vienna, for none of their history is recorded in Schestag 1872. Indeed, their close associations with Johann Moritz and the Reformed Church of Cleves had still not been rediscovered by Baron Ferdinand before his death in 1898, nor were they mentioned when they were published in Read 1902, Rosenberg III 1925, or Dalton 1927. None of these publications commented upon the extraordinary form of the ewer, which very clearly does not conform to the established canons of Renaissance and Mannerist design, though in Read 1902 there was a half-hearted - if unstated - recognition of the problem because the ewer was dated “about 1590” and the basin was dated “about 1610”, thereby implying a 'marriage' of some kind between the two objects.
In fact, the 'marriage' is between the faked upper part of the ewer (c. 1870) and its genuine spout, handle and body (c. 1610-13). Having removed the lid with Johann Moritz's heraldic lion and coat-of-arms on a shield, the 'Frankfurter Herr' commissioned a goldsmith to reset the spout and handle in the more typical fashion of Nuremberg silver ewers of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. The goldsmith therefore had to remove the spout, leaving a big hole in the shoulder of the ewer; similarly the handle would have had to be removed, and no doubt this led to the surface of the body being spoilt in two further places. The goldsmith's solution to the problem was technically brilliant. He filled the hole where the spout had been with a winged cherub head, embossed and chased so that it would blend deceptively into the pattern of Mannerist ornament on the ewer. Similarly, he introduced (on the reverse) a fantastic 'Indian' mask in the exaggerated Mannerist style at the place where, according to the 1857 lithograph, the upper end of the handle had been attached. Both these skilful additions are executed in high relief, and hence the perfect line of the ewer's earlier profile is now lost, but such sculptural enrichments were not uncommon on the more ambitious Mannerist ewers, such as Nikolaus Schmidt's late sixteenth-century silver and mother-of-pearl ewer (in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) or Bartel Jamnitzer's 1581 ewer (in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - see ‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, pp. 246-7, no. 58). Indeed, they are often introduced by artists such as Paulus II Flindt into their designs for ewers (see ‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, p. 388, no. 419).
However, this unidentified goldsmith of 1869-70 was insufficiently versed in the niceties of Mannerist design and proportion, and as a result neither this thin, tapering neck nor the bun-shaped, 'cushion-like' section is 'correct' for an early seventeenth-century ewer. They introduce a distinctly jarring note, which at the time would probably have passed unnoticed because the Victorian perception of the Renaissance-Mannerist vocabulary of design was slightly different, and in their revival of the style the Victorian artists added their own subtle flavour and, in particular, frequently employed this type of curving, narrow, tubular neck on tall ewers. However, the skill with which the goldsmith in 1869-70 integrated the original spout with his new neck defies detection. Because the underside of the spout bears the punch-marks it was very important to preserve the original spout, but at the same time that decision was inevitably going to lead to the spout being regularly subjected to powerful scrutiny. The goldsmith had, therefore, to ensure that his 'marriage' of old and new would arouse no suspicions. He relied chiefly on his outstanding ability to fake the style of the embossed, chased and engraved decoration on the rest of the ewer and basin.
Rather ambitiously, he decided to create two biblical scenes within oval reserves, one on either side of the narrow neck. These two scenes with figures in a landscape were doubly challenging because, instead of a flat surface, he had to emboss and chase a very rounded, convex area. He arranged the two oval reserves so that the scenes were immediately above the emblematical figures of Hope and Temperance. However, his choice of Old Testament scenes - or perhaps it was the decision of the 'Frankfurter Herr' - was curiously inappropriate: above Hope, the scene of Samson slaying the Philistines with the jaw-bone of an ass; and above Temperance, the scene of Delilah cutting off Samson's locks of hair. Nevertheless the execution of these two scenes is most convincing, in both their compositional and their stylistic details - even the trick of allowing the scrollwork of the frames to intrude into the scenes (upper left and right) is faithfully copied from the three oval scenes on the basin. Not only is the design of the oval frames copied but the two winged term-like figures (between the two oval reserves) are almost exactly the same as the three on the basin.
The reason for the goldsmith's success in 1869-70 was in part his technical skill, but more importantly the quality of the source for the two scenes. Because the goldsmith was copying, almost line for line, two engravings from the correct period and artistic milieu, his embossed and chased scenes have a character that harmonises with the rest of the ewer and basin. Both compositions follow closely the engraved illustrations in the Bible produced by Matthaeus Merian in 1630 (see Matthaeus Merian, ‘Die Bilder zur Bibel’ (P. Meinhold edition), Hamburg, 1965, pp. 92-4), though these engravings were first issued in 1627 as part of a series of biblical prints he had created. Dr Ter Molen in 1979 drew attention to the fact that, whereas the composition of the first scene (Samson with the jaw-bone of an ass) could be traced back to a very similar scene in a print by Cornelis Metsys dated 1549 (F. W. H. Hollstein, ‘Dutch and Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts’, XI, Amsterdam, 1955, p. 177, no. 13), there seemed to be no earlier sources for Merian's composition of the Samson and Delilah scene. Dr Ter Molen concluded that the second scene was almost certainly Merian's own invention, especially as a preliminary drawing for it in Merian's own hand had survived in Dessau (Staatliche Galerie, Dessau - see L. H. Wüthrich: ‘Die Handzeichnungen von Matthaeus Merian’, Basel, 1963, no. 63). The evidence indicates, therefore, that at least one of the two Samson scenes on the ewer is based on a pictorial composition that postdates the earliest written record of the ewer and basin - the 1625 Inventory of silver-plate etc. belonging to Margaretha von Holstein-Sonderburg, the mother of Johann Moritz von Nassau-Siegen.
Irrefutable proof of the very high level of faking achieved by at least one modern goldsmith, active around 1870 and patronised by a 'Frankfurter Herr', whose clientele included Baron Anselm, is important. To make a skilful fake of this kind is a difficult task, but to create a deception that is intended to be placed for ever cheek-by-jowl with similar, but genuine, work on the same object is the most daunting challenge of all. There can be little disagreement about this goldsmith's technical success, though his use of the debased laurel wreath motif to encircle the bottom of the curious 'cushion-like' section was no more 'correct' than his extremely narrow, curving neck. Similarly the unfortunate join, where the lower part of the handle rests on top of the embossed torso of the winged term, is 'incorrect' and reveals yet again the Achilles' heel of this faker. Nevertheless, if his embossing and chasing in the Mannerist style could be so convincing on this early seventeenth-century ewer, how much more successful would his fakes tend to be whenever he was working de novo without any such restraints.
There are, for example, the remarkably similar silver-gilt ewer and basin which since 1947 have been preserved in the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, and which have to be reconsidered in the light of the 1869-70 restorations to the Johann Moritz ewer and basin. The Chicago ewer (H. 14.5 in) and the basin (DIAM. 19 in) are both marked with the town-mark of Nuremberg and the maker's mark of Franz Dotte (Doth). This goldsmith, who came from Lüneburg and was made a master in 1592, fled from Nuremberg in 1612 (see ‘Wenzel Jamnitzer’ 1985, p. 497); however, he was followed by his son, Conrad Dotte (master 1624, died 1659). Significantly, Hieronimus Berckhaussen, the goldsmith who most probably made the Johann Moritz ewer an
Go to the Collection Online page for this object?