V&A Online Journal
Issue No. 5 Autumn 2013
Finding the Divine Falernian: Amber in Early Modern Italy
Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich
This paper explores both the finding of raw amber, and the creation of sculptural works in this venerated material, in Italy, from the late-16th to the 18th centuries. Using new archival and archaeological evidence, it offers new interpretation and context for a number of amber objects in the V&A’s collection.
Three amber altarpieces for private devotion
Among the objects made of amber in the V&A’s collections, The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (27.5 cm x 21.2 cm) is exceptional.(8) Matthew 2:13 tells of the appearance of an angel to Joseph, advising him to flee Herod and go to Egypt. Later apocryphal narratives of Christ’s infancy fleshed out Matthew’s story, relating how the Holy Family stopped to rest beneath a tree, which, at Christ’s behest, lowered its branches to allow its fruits to be reached. When all were full, thirst-quenching water sprang miraculously from its base. The relief alludes to this miracle. We see the Holy Family with the young St John the Baptist, surrounded by angels, atop a mosaic of lapis lazuli. We see an angel and a tree to the left of the central group. Another angel is presenting Christ with date-like fruits.(9)In her catalogue entry on this item, Trusted noted a similar piece in the National Museum of Scotland (NMS), Edinburgh; a further similar work can be found in private ownership.(10) The NMS piece shows The Baptism of Christ (fig. 2) but the background has been lost. The figures of the kneeling Christ and St John are positioned on the right and, like the bending palm tree, have been carved out of reddish amber, which tests have revealed to be from Baltic amber seams. All stand atop a curious stage comprising blocks of yellowish amber.(11) The work can be viewed, removed and reinserted through a glass door in its display case. The second similar piece was once in the collection of the Princes Corsini, and was sold to another private collector by the dealer Rainer Zietz in London.(12) It is similarly sized (30 cm x 20 cm), and shows The Adoration of the Shepherds (fig. 3). Set against a background of silvered tin, which has now oxidised green, the amber scene is housed in a case of dark wood, with a glass panel at the front. The stable has been carved from three large pieces of reddish amber. St Joseph sits on the left, and the ox and ass look over his shoulder, while the Virgin, flanked by shepherds, lifts the baby from the manger. The kneeling shepherd on the far right is considerably smaller than the other figures and made of contrasting yellow amber, as are the clouds, the rocks before the stable, the trees, and the ruined architecture on the left. Unlike the Edinburgh piece, which has a socle and feet, this case has a ring for suspension at its apex.
Trusted connected these works to Italy on stylistic and circumstantial evidence. She noted stylistic and compositional similarities between the V&A piece and an engraving showing The Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Domenico Pellegrino, also known as Tibaldi (1527 - 1596).(13) She also observed that the inked inscription, ‘Batista’, on the Edinburgh Baptism suggested that this piece was ‘at least at one time […] in Italy’.(14) Inventories and written accounts provide a further source of evidence to link these objects to Italy. The 1708 inventory of Francesco Maria Farnese’s (1678 - 1727) ‘Galleria delle cose rare’ records:
un camaglio grande ovato d’ambra con figure della Madonna, Bambino, S. Giuseppe, S. Gio Battista di rilievo, ed altre due figurine in lontananza, legato in cornice d’argento a filigrana e fiorami con fondo di lapis lazuli con cornice intorno di rame dorato sopra tavola di legno con dietro carta marmorea.
(a large oval camaglio of amber with relief figures of the Virgin, Child, St Joseph, St John the Baptist, and two further figures in the distance, set in a frame of filigree silver with flowers and on a background of lapis lazuli with an inner frame of gilded copper, atop a wooden panel with marbled paper to the rear.) (15)
The similarities between this description and the panel in the V&A are striking. The figures of the Virgin, Joseph, Jesus and St John, the lapis lazuli backing and the frame of gilded brass all correspond. Exactly what ‘camaglio’ means here is unclear: the word ‘camaglio’ literally means coif, a cap-like item of clothing or armour which covers the top, back and sides of the head and sometimes the neck and shoulders; one might surmise that it refers to a balaclava-like form with an arching top, straight sides and a flat bottom.(16) There are good grounds for suggesting that the pieces must be closely related, if not one and the same. If the latter is true, we should imagine The Rest on the Flight into Egypt as having once been elaborately framed with filigree silver flowers.
Similar amber objects are referred to in a cross section of sources concentrated in the first half of the 18th century. We find ‘a picture in amber, representing the Annunciation with a frame of lapis lazuli and silver wire’, in Cardinal Fabrizio Spada’s (1643 - 1717) eponymous palace, in Rome in 1717;(17) a comparable piece depicting ‘the descent from the cross, of amber set in ebony and lapis lazuli’, in the audience chamber of the papal apartment in the Vatican, around a decade later;(18) and a more simple ‘presepe d’ambra’ among Alessandro Gregorio Capponi’s (1683 - 1746) possessions in his Roman palace, in 1746.(19) Two further objects are inventoried, in the Neapolitan palace of the Duchess of Sicignano (d. 1716), in which there were ‘two octagonal pictures in silver, in one of which there is the Immaculate Conception in amber, in the other a crucifix with a frame of ebony, for the frame eight silver corners and a silver ring.’(20)
On backgrounds of lapis lazuli and encased in frames of ebony, the aforementioned Annunciation, Deposition and Nativity, may well be related to The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Adoration and Baptism. Though a number of these objects appear to have existed, information provided in the inventories suggests that such pieces were relatively rare, and highly valued. In the Palazzo Spada, for example, the Annunciation was one of the most expensive objects in the room with the exception of textiles and an imported English clock in an ebony case.(21) The panel itself was valued at the same price as a pocket watch in a stamped silver case, capable of chiming every fifteen minutes. Capponi’s ‘presepe,’ which was not ornamented with silver, gold or lapis lazuli, was only valued at half the price of Spada’s Annunciation.(22) All three pieces appear to have been in good condition, and none is described as being old, implying that they were made in the late-17th or early-18th century; it is noteworthy that no amber was listed in the 1703 inventory of Capponi’s property.
Amber was not new in Italy in Marie Casimire’s time. By the late-17th century, amber was not only imported in worked and raw form, it was also being dug from Italian land and fished for in Italian waters. The first reports of its natural occurrence date from the late 1630s when George Ent (1604 - 1689) remarked in a letter to Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588 - 1657) that he had ‘rejoiced at the find of amber in Italy’. The source of this information was presumably dal Pozzo, but since his letters to Ent do not survive, the site of this discovery remains unknown.(26) It may have been Sicily, for just one year later Pietro Carrera’s Delle memorie historiche della città di Catania (1639) recorded finding amber off the island’s coast:
I must mention [...] the amber which appears on the sea coast of Catania of such an enormous size that it is similar to a bitter orange. Many [pieces of amber], however, are found which are very small and in which a small animal is enclosed, such as an ant, a mosquito, a fly or a flea or other such.(27)
Soon Sicilians were deliberately harvesting the material. Paolo Boccone (1633 - 1704) watched its collection while travelling between Agrigento, Leoncato and Terranova:
The children of those parts collect it from among the seaweed [...] [they] searched for it in my presence for a small payment, and I did see some pieces of amber rectangular in shape, the surface of which appeared like a rough grey stone, but which was the colour of hyacinth yellow inside, the divine colour called falernian.(28)
Before long, amber was also being found elsewhere in Italy. In 1650, Antonio Masini (1599 - 1691) noted its discovery near to Bologna:
In a number of places one can find the most perfect yellow amber, and the stone jet, and other bituminous materials generated by the earth, which burn like pitch, and of the above mentioned amber, they find it in the mountains near to Castel S. Pietro, ten miles away from that castle in a place they call le Rovine, towards the church: and in the commune of Querzetto in the place called la Fonte.(29)Boccone had the chance to handle this amber and speak to its finder, the local curate Niccolò Cesi (dates unknown). Cesi confirmed to him that amber could be found in his parish, ‘in the place called le Ruine and at la Torre too, an arquebus shot from the church at Gragnano [...] pieces [were found] in the chalky ground [...] and [could] be seen easily after it [had] rained’.(30) The Bolognese contado appears to have been a rich source. Boccone also notes the finding of ‘almonds’ of amber near to Scanello, at Abingiano, about sixteen miles from Bologna, as well as at Ozzano dell’Emilia, situated between the city and Castel S. Pietro.(31) In 1684, a new supply was found in Umbria by a farmer, who, when breaking apart limestone for his kiln, had found a chunk of amber ‘as large as a cap and in the shape of one’ inside. He had thought it was pitch, but upon breaking and burning it he observed that the flames were the ‘beautiful golden colour of amber’; his discovery was verified in Giuseppe Scenti’s pharmacy in Foligno.(32) Near to Ancona, farmers tilling the fields soon began finding amber too, in such abundance that it was not only burned for its scent but also sold onwards through the pharmacist Domenico Vicini (dates unknown).(33) Two considerable pieces, each weighing approximately a quarter of a kilogram, were found near to Sezze and taken to Rome, where they were put on public display at Lorenzo Lupidii’s (dates unknown) shop in Parione.(34)
With the exception of those made near to Bologna (continuing into the 19th century) few, if any of these finds, probably related to true amber. 16th- and 17th-century Italian natural philosophers were well versed in the Roman mania for amber. They marvelled as much as Pliny (AD 23 – AD 79) at the lump of amber said to have weighed over four kilograms, brought back from the Baltic by one of his contemporaries.(35) Giacinto Gimma (1668 - 1735) reminded his readers that Pausanius had seen a piece of amber large enough to have been carved in the likeness of Augustus, in a niche in Trajan’s Forum Romanum at Olympia.(36) It may be relevant, then, that discoveries of amber in Italy appears to have coincided with the first inadvertent archaeological discoveries. This coincidence is clearer in some cases than in others. In 1565, for example, a roman urn was found during building work on land belonging to the church of S. Biagio in Rome; it contained an ‘amber cupid [and] a sleeping cupid of the same material’, and its contents were passed to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520 - 1589).(37) These pieces were believed to be antique examples.(38) Whether or not the same was thought about the pieces being dug up around Ancona is unclear, but a later series of tomb excavations carried out near to the same city in the 19th century uncovered more than 400 large amber beads. It seems highly likely that the amber coming to light in the 17th century was found because surface activity was disturbing necropoli.(39) Neither Boccone nor Gimma suggest that contemporaries suspected this, while no mention is made of the simultaneous finding of other grave goods or the wires that would have once united beads in fibulae or necklaces. On the other hand, neither Boccone nor Gimma had any reason to question the veracity of the ever-expanding number of known sources, having witnessed amber’s recovery from the soil or sea at first hand.
Working amber in Sicily
The theory proposed here, that the arrival of the exiled queen in Italy inspired the reliefs discussed at the beginning of this article, is supported by the fact that few Italian-made amber objects are known to have been made before about 1700, despite amber having long been available. There is no evidence that Italian amber was worked on any notable scale before this date, and it was only in the 18th century that Italian, especially Sicilian, amber and collections of amber became well known enough to be noted by Grand Tourists.
The collection of Ignazio Biscari (1719 - 1786), prince of Castello, was particularly feted. The ever-reliable Goethe (1749 - 1832) visited it and described in his diaries how Biscari’s wife ‘opened the cabinet in which the amber collection was kept’ to show him ‘urns, cups and other things [...] carved from it’.(40) Biscari was an enthusiastic archaeologist, so Goethe may have been viewing ancient ambers, for if Goethe, who was also a geologist, saw amber being collected and worked in Catania in 1787 he made no mention of it. Despite this, the Scot Patrick Brydone (1741 - 1819), who spent a summer on the island in 1770, Catania was at the centre of amber working in Sicily.(41) Brydone saw amber being ‘manufactured into the form of crosses, beads, saints &c. and [...] sold at high prices to the superstitious people on the continent’.(42) The son of a Church of Scotland minister, Brydone considered amber’s capacity to become statically charged particularly fitting to its use in religious paraphernalia. For him, crosses, beads and saints were ‘emblematical […] of what they represent’, and exerted a similarly charged and attractive force. This did not prevent him, however, from seeing that Sicilian craftsmen were also ingenious carvers of amber and he was more than ‘a little entertained with the ingenuity of one of the artists’, who ‘had left a large bluebottle fly, with its wings expanded, exactly over the head of a saint, to represent […] lo spirito santo descending upon him’.(43)
The same originality of imagination is evident from the following description of what was probably a roughly-contemporary, miniature farm offered for sale to a London dealership in the early-20th century:
The roof tiles of the farmhouse are of amber, the walls mother-of-pearl delicately engraved; the door and window frames of gilt bronze; the doors and windows being hung with red velvet. The group of figures includes persons of rank, labourers of the field, menials, animals, and objects of various kinds, all carved in amber, in addition to other objects in ivory etc. […] the enclosure in front of the house […] is made of mother-of-pearl and gilt bronze, and includes a wicker gate. Inside this enclosure is a small round ivory table with minute ivory handled knives and gilt-bronze plates; outside it is another miniature table, oblong in shape with a marble top, gilt-bronze legs, at one end of which is seated a woman in an ivory chair. On the table are jugs in ivory or bone and loaves of bread in amber. The animals include a tortoise, a dolphin, and a pony which is being ridden by a girl – while all the human figures are actively engaged in various ways. The faces and clothing of the figures, the bodies of the animals, and the shapes of the flagons and other objects […] are remarkable for the minuteness and accuracy of detail in the carving which greatly adds to its charm and interest (Measurements 10 in. x 6 in.). (44)
This level of skill reflects the fact that by the time Brydone visited Catania, in 1770, an ‘industry’ of working amber had actually been established there for fifty years or more. According to Francesco Ferrara, writing in 1805, the industry developed in direct response to the inclusion of the island, and Mount Etna, in the Grand Tour.(45) Catanian workshops had been producing amber ‘snuff boxes, rosaries, bracelets and other female ornaments’, as well as much more complex objects, such as amber crucifixes with holy water stoops, from as early as the 1740s.(46) We do not know how many craftsmen were working amber in Catania. According to Domenico Sestini, Trapani work was ‘admired by many foreign peoples’(47) and it was this popularity, wrote Ferrara in 1805, which had helped the town to outstrip the much older centre of Catania.(48) In Trapani, a town in the far west of the island, there were at least eight individuals working amber in the 17th and 18th centuries, some with their own workshops. The earliest, Andrea Carrera, was born in the mid 1600s.(49) The majority were, like Giuseppe de Niza (active around 1700), Leonardo Barbara (active in the late 17th century), Giuseppe Tipa (1725 - 1766) and Paolo Cusenza (1736 - 1798), adept workers of materials other than amber.(50) Sicilians had a long tradition of working coral, a similarly soft organic material whose naturally twisted form both required and inspired inventiveness, whose mastery involved the same simple tools and which was also used in conjunction with other materials, including amber (for example, in small devotional scenes), ivory, mother-of-pearl, and tortoiseshell.(51) This experience would have prepared the craftsmen for the numerous techniques involving heat that could be applied when working amber.(52) There was also a tradition of making large nativity scenes or crèches for Christmas. The Tipa family, to which Giuseppe Tipa belonged, were famous producers of these scenes and it is easy to spot their influence in such objects as the farm, as well as in surviving figures.(53) One of the features that distinguishes Sicilian from Neapolitan crib figures is the plinth on which the represented person or group of persons stands.(54) We find the same plinth on some other amber objects, which suggestively point to Sicily as the place of their making. These include a small nativity scene in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich,(55) an Adoration of the Christ Child in The Art Institute of Chicago,(56) a figure of Perseus in the Hermitage, St Petersburg,(57) and a fourth group incorporated into an altarpiece in the Museum for Fine Arts, Boston.(58) These pieces may have a Trapani provenance, for in Trapani, amber working appears to have been viewed as a form of sculpture.(59) So highly regarded was it, that one of the tasks allotted to the city’s school of design when it was established in 1804 was ‘the perfection of the art of disegno, very necessary for sculpture in ivory, alabaster and amber, [...] practiced and traded in this city’.(60)
Sicilian ambers in the V&A’s collections
The Sicilian amber ‘industry’ was clearly a flourishing one. Locally sourced and worked amber was a staple of the local souvenir market. The Forti shop in Trapani, for example, stocked eggs of amber; these were sold loose, but may also have been intended for the assemblages we know of from surviving objects, in which these eggs are mounted in filigree silver, and decorated with delicate silver flowers and leaves, in miniature versions of altar vases.(61) A comparison with finimenti - the accessories that enlivened enormous crib groups - reveals that these beads were often transformed into curious candelabras for tiny palace interiors.(62) They were also mounted to make delicate rosaries.(63) According to the French tourist, Félix Bourquelot (1815 - 1868), perusing the little shops in which these pieces were sold was as enjoyable as viewing the paintings by Luca Giordano and Carlo Maratti in the civic gallery.(64)
Sicilian amber was also available abroad.(65) As early as 1728, John Browne (fl. 1725 - 1736) claimed that amber was one of Italy’s most traded products.(66) Craftsmen entered into agreements to transport and sell their work on nearby Malta and used mainland Italian ports to export their produce.(67) It may say something about the strength of the Sicilian industry that an attempt by the Seesalzhandlungskompagnie to begin exporting Prussian crucifixes and rosaries to Spain in 1783 failed.(68) Such was the trade in amber on the island that by 1805, ‘the quantity of amber which the beaches and those places […] administer after the winter rains and storms at sea [did] not satisfy the daily need, whether that of Sicily or beyond and it [had] become necessary to buy, after much time, foreign amber’.(69) The industry continued well into the 19th century with the newly instituted International Exhibitions (for example at Dublin in 1865, where the British Consul exhibited a Catanian amber necklace in his possession) being used to draw attention to it.(70) It is notable that the association of amber with Prussia, in the English and French public imaginations, had become broken by the end of the 19th century. In the former, amber beads had become known as Leghorn corals and in the latter ‘perls olives livornaises’.(71)
The question arises: where are these ambers today? They are sure to exist and their scarcity may simply be due to there being little awareness of this industry. It is possible to identify a number of subjects that are characteristic of Sicilian production, such as figures of St Rosalia or the Madonna of Trapani, both of whom are geographically specific to the island.(72) Francesco Ferrara suggests the association of classicising cameos in amber, and antique-type busts of the same material, with Catania: ‘recently (before 1805) some Catanesi artists have been using superb pieces of amber to make cameos of two or three inches in diameter; these they shape into the busts of emperors, empresses and ancient gods which they take from Sicilian coins’.(73) One such piece may be the cameo-like amber head, which Marjorie Trusted tentatively linked to Italy in 1985 (fig. 5).(74) Traditionally believed to depict a saint, the subject wears his shoulder-length hair with a centre parting and his bearded face is turned slightly to the right. Scratch marks around the edges and a small hole drilled at the top of this medallion suggest that it was once set, perhaps to be worn as a devotional pendant, mounted as a standing ornament, or inset into an object. The latter option is the case with the amber medallions on a casket acquired by the amber connoisseur, W. A. Buffum, who favoured Sicilian amber. He bought it from Fritz von Miller, a trained goldsmith, sculptor and teacher at the Königliche Kunstgewerbeschule in Munich from 1868 onwards (fig. 6).(75) The similarity between one of these medallions and the V&A Head of a Saint cannot be overlooked.
According to Ferrara, the production of ‘delicate sheets [of amber] in which they carve diverse figures, landscapes [and] views’ was, on the other hand, characteristic of Trapani.(76) He may have been thinking about such objects as an Immacolata, dated to about 1736, in which the Virgin stands above three winged angel’s heads which have been cut in low relief into an irregular medallion of amber.(77) The periphery is left blank, as if to frame the scene. The same feature is seen on a roughly contemporary Nativity in which the figures of the Holy Family, the ox and the ass stand proud, while the scene’s border has been left unworked.(78) Blank borders are seldom seen on plaques and medallions of amber we know to have been worked in Northern Europe (for example, in Danzig or Kassel), in which the composition expands to the very edges of the field.(79) This difference in approach may suggest that a small Adoration of the Shepherds, formerly in the possession of Maria Maddalena Farnese and now in the Museo Capodimonte in Naples, is actually Sicilian and so not attributable to Christoph Maucher.(80) Perhaps because no obvious stylistic parallel has been found, the Naples’ Adoration has been little discussed in art-historical literature on amber. Yet this Adoration is closer to Ferrara’s ‘delicate sheets’ with ‘diverse figures’ than it is to Maucher’s deeply cut reliefs.(81) A similar medallion exists – depicting a man (perhaps the apocryphal figure Tobias) being visited by an angel – that is incorporated into the altarpiece in the Boston Museum for Fine Arts.(82) Moreover, Maria Maddalena’s Adoration was mounted in a filigree silver frame – a feature that can also be linked to Italy.(83)
Filigree frames of precious metal are a consistent feature of the objects discussed; a feature that only appears in conjunction with amber in Italian inventories of the 17th and 18th centuries. That these objects were pieces made in East or West Prussia or at any of the German courts with amber turners, and made to fit Italian tastes with the help of a filigree silver frame, cannot be completely ruled out. However, the stylistic differences they demonstrate when compared with pieces from Northern Europe, and the textual evidence linking specific forms and subjects to Italy, and to Sicily in particular, makes this unlikely. Clearly, much research remains to be done in the area of Sicilian ambers, not to mention amber sculpture in Italy more generally. Although Marjorie Trusted highlighted the existence of Sicilian/Italian ambers in the London collections nearly thirty years ago, the overwhelming focus of scholarship has been on historical amber art from Prussia. The dominance of Northern Europe, combined with the strong popular association of amber with the Baltic region, and bolstered by recent publications cataloguing amber in the royal collections at Dresden and in Vienna, has overshadowed the variety of amber art from other parts of the world. It is hoped that this contribution may encourage further research on Italian amber and support its rehabilitation within the fields of art and design history.
1. Marjorie Trusted, Catalogue of European Ambers in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1985).
2. Other English language publications dealing with or touching on amber art before Trusted are: W. A. Buffum, The Tears of the Heliades: or Amber as a Gem (London: Sampson Low-Marston, 1896); I. Baker, ‘Old Amber,’ The Connoisseur (December 1932): 387-91; George Charles Williamson, The Book of Amber (London: E. Benn limited, 1932); W. L. Hildburgh, ‘An amber and ivory altar,’ Apollo 30 (1939): 208-13; Donald E. Strong, Catalogue of the Carved Amber in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities (London: British Museum, 1966); Rosa Hunger, The Magic of Amber (London: NAG Press, 1977); Janina Grabowska, Amber in Polish History, trans. Ewa Błachowicz (Edinburgh: City of Edinburgh Museums and Art Galleries, 1978); Patty Rice, Amber: The Golden Gem of the Ages (New York and London: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1980); Janina Grabowska, Polish Amber, trans. Emma Harris (Warsaw: Interpress, 1983); Marjorie Trusted, ‘Four Amber Statuettes by Christoph Maucher’, Pantheon 3 (1984): 245-50.
3. Publications since 1989 (for English language publications, see note 2) are: Gisela Reineking von Bock, ‘Bernstein – ein Werkstoff der Ostsee,’ in Deutsche Kunst aus dem Osten: Erwerbungen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Würzburg: Bergstadtverlag Willhelm Gottlieb Korn, 1989), 25-30, 197-206; Elżbieta Mierzwińska, Bänsten: guldet från Östersjön = Bursztyn: złoto Bałtyku (Bydgoszcz: Excalibur, 1992); Susanne Netzer, ‘Bernsteingeschenke in der preussischen Diplomatie des 17. Jahrhunderts,’ Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 35 (1993): 227-46; Michael Ganzelewski and Rainer Slotta, eds. Bernstein: Tränen der Götter, Veröffentlichungen aus dem Deutschen Bergbau-Museum (Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, 1996); Elżbieta Mierzwińska, Kunstschätze aus Bernstein: die Sammlung des Schlossmuseums Marienburg bei Danzig (Augsburg: Kulturbrücke Schwaben e. V., 1996); Georg Laue, ‘Bernstein - ein außergewöhnlicher Bildträger für die Kunst des Amelierens,’ in Glas, Glanz, Farbe: Vielfalt barocker Hinterglaskunst im Europa des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, ed. Frieder Ryser and Brigitte Salmen, (Murnau: Schloßmuseum, 1997), 61-4; Ulf Erichson, ed. Die Staatliche Bernstein-Manufaktur Königsberg: 1926 – 1945 (Ribnitz-Damgarten: Eigenverlag des Deutschen Bernsteinmuseums, 1998); Elżbieta Mierzwińska, Bernsteinschätze aus der Marienburg (Bydgoszcz: Excalibur, 2000); Julia Lachenmann, Der Bernsteinschrank (Munich: Kunstkammer Georg Laue, 2001); Hans Ottomeyer, ‘Bernstein und Politik – Staatsgeschenke des preußischen Hofes,’ in Bernstein in der dekorativen Kunst, Akten der Internationalen Konferenz (St. Petersburg: State Museum Zarskoje Selo, 2003), 61-69; Maurice Philip Remy, Mythos Bernsteinzimmer (Munich: List, 2003); Marek Zak and Lucjan Myrta, Bernstein: Das Leben und Werk von Lucjan Myrta (Bydgoszcz: Excalibur, 2004); Jörn Barford, Bernstein (Husum: Husum, 2005); Jutta Kappel, Bernsteinkunst aus dem Grünen Gewölbe, (Dresden and Munich: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Grünes Gewölbe Dresden and Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2005); Wilfried Seipel, ed. Bernstein für Thron und Altar: Das Gold des Meeres in fürstlichen Kunst- und Schatzkammern (Milan: Skira, 2005); Kerstin Hinrichs, ‘Bernstein das Preußische Gold’ in Kunst- und Naturalienkammern und Museen des 6. – 20. Jahrhunderts (PhD Dissertation, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 2006); Georg Laue, ed. Bernstein: Kostbarkeiten europäischer Kunstkammer (Munich: Kunstkammer Georg Laue, 2006); Maria Luisa Nava and Antonio Salerno, eds. Ambre: Trasparenze dall’antico (Milan: Electa, 2007); Camille Coppinger, Ambre: mémoire du temps avec les contributions de André Nel et de Georg Laue (Paris: Thalia Edition, 2009); Alan P. Darr ‘Discoveries: A courtly seventeenth-century amber and ivory casket,’ The Magazine Antiques 176/6 (2009): 28, 30, 32; Hans Ottomeyer, ‘Bernstein und Politik – Staatsgeschenke des preußischen Hofes,’ in Luxus und Integration. Materielle Hofkultur Westeuropas vom 12. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert, Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte 32, ed. Werner Paravicini (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2010), 139-48.
4. Trusted, Catalogue of European Ambers, 82-9. See also: Rice, Amber: the Golden Gem of the Ages; Marjorie Trusted, ‘Smart Lethieullier’s amber tankard,’ Apollo 121 (1985): 310-13; Marjorie Trusted, ‘An amber cannon by Michael Schödelook of 1660’, The Burlington Magazine 128 (1986): 807-08; Helen Fraquet, Amber (London: Butterworths, 1987); Amy Goldenberg, Polish Amber Art (PhD Dissertation, University of Indiana, 2004); D. A. Grimaldi, Amber: Window to the Past (2nd ed. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003).
5. Trusted, Catalogue of European Ambers, 84-7.
6. Ibid., 88-89.
7. See Marjorie Trusted, ed. The Making of Sculpture: The Materials and Techniques of European sculpture (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2007), 140. See also Neil Clark, Amber: Tears of the Gods (Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic, 2010); Rachel King, ‘The Shining Example of "Prussian Gold": Amber and Cross-cultural Connections between Italy and the Baltic in the Early Modern Period,’ in Materiał rzeźby między techniką a semantyką, ed. Aleksandra Lipińska, (Wrocław: Wydawn. Uniw. Wrocławskiego, 2009), 457-470; Idem, ‘Whale’s sperm, maiden’s tears and lynx’s urine: Baltic amber and the fascination for it in early modern Italy,’ Ikonotheka 22 (2010): 167-179; Idem, Baltic Amber in Early Modern Italy (PhD Dissertation, University of Manchester, 2011); Idem, ‘“The beads with which we pray are made from it”: Devotional Ambers in Early Modern Italy,’ in Religion and the Sense in Early Modern Europe, ed. Wietse de Boer and Christine Göttler (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013), 163-75.
8. Trusted, Catalogue of European Ambers, 84-7.
9. See also the description provided in Trusted, Catalogue of European Ambers, 84-7.
10. Trusted, Catalogue of European Ambers, 84-7, n. 4; Sotheby’s Florence, 26 September 1994, lot 218 (unpublished).
11. My thanks to Dr Godfrey Evans for allowing me to study this object in 2005 and Dr Andrew Ross for discussing it with me in Danzig in March 2013.
12. My thanks to Rainer Zietz for answering my enquiries.
13. Trusted, Catalogue of Europe Ambers, 87.
15. Extracted from the inventory reproduced in Giuseppe Campori, Raccolta di cataloghi ed inventarii inediti di quadri, statue, disegni, bronzi, dorerie, smalti, medaglie, avorii, ecc. dal secolo XV al secolo XIX (Modena: C. Vincenzi, 1870), 459-505, cf. especially 484-6: ‘a large oval camaglio of amber with relief figures of the Virgin, Child, St Joseph, St John the Baptist, and two further figures in the distance, set in a frame of filigree silver with flowers and on a background of lapis lazuli with an inner frame of gilded copper, atop a wooden panel with marbled paper to the rear.’
16. This is the definition given by both the third (1691) and fourth editions (1729-1738) of the famous Vocabulario degli Accademici della Crusca.
17. Archivio di Stato di Roma (henceforth ASR), Trenta Notai Capitolini, Giuseppe Antonio Persiani, uff. 2, 28 giugno 1717: Inventario dei beni ereditari della chiara memoria dell’Ill. mo Rev. mo Sig. Cardinale Fabrizio Spada Vescovo di Palestrina, reproduced in Maria Lucrezia Vicini, ‘Inventario dei beni Ereditari del Cardinale Fabrizio Spada del 1717’, in Il collezionismo del Cardinale Fabrizio Spada in Palazzo Spada (Rome: Markonet, 2006), 227-38: ‘quadro di Ambra rappresentante la SS.ma Annunziata con cornice di lapis lazzaro, e filetto d’oro’
18. Johann Georg Keyssler, Travels through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy and Lorrain […] carefully translated from the second German edition (London: printed for A. Linde, 1756) vol. 1, 188.
19. ASR, Trenta notai capitolini, uff. 8, vol. 355, Generoso Ginnetti. No amber appears in the earlier inventory of 1703 [Archivio Cardelli, Div. I, T. 63, f. 24]. Reproduced and discussed in Maria Letizia Papini, Palazzo Capponi a Roma: casa vicino al Popolo, a man manca per la strada di Ripetta (Rome: Campisano, 2003).
20. Archivio di Stato di Napoli, Scheda 665, protocollo 29, ff. 293v-330r, Emptio mobilium pro Marchione Altaville Principe Spinusij In solidum datio Inter pro Vocatis in maioratu et fidei commisso quondam Ducisse Sicignani. Die Primo mensis Aprilis Xj Indictionis 1718 Neapoli (1718) reproduced online by the Getty Provenance Index: ‘[…] due quadri ottangoli d’argento; a uno di essi vi sta in mezzo la ss.ma concezione d’ambra, et all’altro una croce d’ambra con cornice d’ebano, et otto cantoni d’argento, et anello d’argento per cornice’
21. Vicini, ‘Inventario dei beni ereditari del Cardinale Fabrizio Spada del 1717’, 227-38: ‘Stanza dipinta a porcellana […] Un quadro con cornice di cristallo rappresentante la Madonna che va in Egitto opera Fiammenga 25. Altro quadro di Ambra rappresentante la SS.ma Annunziata con cornice di lapis lazzaro, e filetto d’oro 50 […] Un cortinaggio di Amuer cremisi fonderato di taffettano cremisi con francetta, e francione d’oro, vasi di legno indorati con staggi, cordoni e ferri consistenti in sei bandinelle, il cielo coperato, e tornaletto in tutto 100 […] Medaglie d’oro com l’impronto del Papa regnante tra grandi, e piccole di peso diverso, che alla raggione di scudo uno e b. 60 per scudo di detto oro importano 414 60 […] Mostra di orologio d’Inghilterra del Quatres com campana e cassa d’Ebano con ornamenti di metallo, e piedi di fico d’India 100 […]’
22. ASR, Trenta notai capitolini, uff. 8 vol. 355, Generoso Ginnetti, reproduced and discussed in Papini, Palazzo Capponi a Roma: casa vicino al Popolo, a man manca per la strada di Ripetta: ‘Nella stanza […] dove sta l’arcova ed il lato nobile. Due piccole cornucopie di pitone dorate, due statuette di pietra dura, due statuette alla cinese ed altre 8 piu piccole, sc. 5. Una bussola con suoi vetri e fusto telaro con sportello sopra […] una mensola impellicciata di diverse pietre dure ed intarsiata d’ottone e poco argento sopra della sudetta una picolla urnetta di fico d’india con custodia di cristallo. Un presepe d’ambra sc. 20. Un quadro in tavola in tela fuor di misura rappresentate il presepio con cornice dorata all’antica con 3 ordini d’intaglio, sc. 20. Una scrivania ottangolata.’
23. Sotheby’s London, 9 July 2009, Sale L09639, lot 48. For a brief discussion of this piece, see Alvar González-Palacios and Luigi D’Urso, eds. Objects for a Wunderkammer (London: P. & D. Colnaghi, 1981), 276-7.
24. Gaetano Platania, Gli ultimi Sobieski e Roma: fasti e miserie di una famiglia reala polacca tra Sei e Settecento (1699-1715) (Manziana: Vecchiarelli, 1990), 12, 63-72; Gaetano Platania, ‘Le donne di Casa Sobieski nella Roma del Sei-Settecento,’ in Donne di Potere, Donne al Potere, ed. Associazione F.I.D.A.P.A. 147-218 (Viterbo: Sette Città, 2009), 165-99; Gaetano Platania, Lettere alla corte di Roma di Cardinale Enrico de la Grange d’Arquien suocero di Giovanni Sobieski (Udine: Del Bianco Editore, 1989), passim for Spada, 17 for Cusani, on the arrangements for her arrival, Letters XXXVI-XXXIX.
25. For Francesco Farnese, for example, see Platania, Gli ultimi Sobieski e Roma, 65. For the others see n. 24.
26. Alan Cook, ‘A Roman Correspondence: Georg Ent and Cassiano dal Pozzo, 1637-55,’ Notes and Records of the Royal Society 59/1 (2005): 5-23, here 17, doc. 6, dated 5 November 1639.
27. Pietro Carrera, Delle memorie historiche della città di Catania etc. vol. 1 of 3 (Catania: 1639), 512-3. Author’s translation. For a second slightly different translation see Fraquet, Amber, 104.
28. Paolo Boccone, Museo di fisica e di esperienze etc. (Venice: per Io. Baptistam Zuccato, 1697), 35. Author’s translation.
29. Antonio di Paolo Masini, Bologna perlustrata etc (Bologna: Carlo Zennero, 1650), 180. Author’s translation. See also Giovanni Ignazio Molina, Memorie di storia naturale (Bologna: 1821), 88-9 on this amber.
30. Boccone, Museo di fisica e di esperienze etc. (Venice: per Io. Baptistam Zuccato, 1697), 34.
32. Boccone, Museo di fisica e di esperienze, 33, and Giacinto Gimma, Della storia naturale delle gemme, delle pietre, e di tutti i minerali, ovvero della fisica sotteranea etc. vol. 1 (Naples: Gennaro Muzio, 1730), 392.
35. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, trans. D. E. Eichholz, vol. 10 (London and Cambridge Mass.: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1962), XXXVII, 46.
36. Gimma, Della storia naturale delle gemme, vol. 1, 393, see Pausanius, Description of Greece, trans. W.H.S. Jones, vol. 2 and 3 (London and Cambridge Mass.: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1960), XII, 7.
37. Quoted in full in Buffum, The Tears of the Heliades, 96-100, and discussed in Williamson, The Book of Amber, 153.
38. On antique ambers see, most recently, Nava and Salerno, eds. Ambre: Trasparenze dall’antico, with its extensive bibliography.
39. Williamson, The Book of Amber, 66.
40. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey, trans. W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Meyer (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), 282.
41. Patrick Brydone, A Tour Through Sicily and Malta in a Series of Letters to William Beckford (3rd ed. London: for W.W.Strahan, 1774), 282.42. Ibid.
43. Ibid. 283.
44. This farmhouse with figures was offered for sale to the London Shop Sac Frères by Mr Leander Williams, owner of a shop in the Palazzo Athenasio, Taormina. For this text, see Fraquet, Amber, 107-8.
45. Francesco Ferrara, Memorie sopra il Lago Naftia nella Sicilia meridionale: sopra l’ambra siciliana; sopra il mele ibleo e la città d’Ibla Megara; sopra Nasso e Callipoli (Palermo: dalla Reale Stamperia, 1805), 90.
46. Antonino Mongitóre’s Della Sicilia Ricercata (1743) cited in Ferrara, Memorie sopra (Palermo: dalla Reale Stamperia, 1805), 90. Author’s translation.
47. Domenico Sestini, Descrizione del museo d’antiquaria e del gabinetto d’istoria naturale del signor principe di Biscari (2nd ed. Livorno: Carlo Giorgi, 1787), 29. Author’s translation.
48. Ferrara, Memorie sopra, 93-5.
49. Rita Vadalà, ‘Coralli e scultori in corallo, madreperla, avorio, tartaruga, conchiglia, ostrica, alabastro, ambra, osso attivi a Trapani e nella Sicilia occidentale dal XV al XIX secolo,’ in Materiali preziosi dalla terra e dal mare nell’arte trapanese e della Sicilia occidentale tra il 18. e il 19. secolo, Regione siciliana, ed. Maria Concetta di Natale, (Palermo: Università degli studi, 2003), 376.
50. Vadalà, ‘Coralli e scultori,’ 369, 388, 396. On Cusenza specifically, see Giuseppe M. di. Ferro e Ferro, Biografia degli uomini illustri trapanesi (Trapani: 1831), 100; discussed in di Natale ‘I maestri corallari trapanesi dal XVI al XIX secolo’, in Materiali preziosi, 46, and Simonette La Barbara, ‘La produzione di maestri corallari nella letteratura artistica trapanese,’ in Materiali preziosi, 71-72, as well as Gregorio’s Discorsi intorno alla Sicilia (1830) discussed in Vadalà, ‘Coralli e scultori,’ 404.
51. As can be seen, for example, in di Natale, ed. Materiali preziosi, 146-8, 169-70.
52. Di Natale, ‘I maestri corallari trapanesi dal XVI al XIX secolo’, 39.
53. Ibid. 36-39. On the methods of working amber in Sicily and their similarity to those use for other precious materials, see Maurizio Vitella, ‘Materiali preziosi dalla terra e dal mare. Le tecniche di lavorazione,’ in Materiali preziosi, 100.
54. A. Uccello, Il presepe popolare in Sicilia (Palermo: Flaccovio, 1979), 30, 38, 151, 243-5 on Andrea and Alberto Tipa.
55. N. Gockerell, Krippen im Bayerischen Nationalmuseum (Munich: Hirmer, 2005), 41-4, 326-79.
56. Ibid., 102 (cat. 23).
57. Adoration of the Christ Child, Gift of Chester D. Tripp to The Art Institute of Chicago, 1965.424.
58. Z. Kostiashova and L. Yakovleva, The Baltic Amber from the Collection in the State Hermitage Exhibition: Catalogue of the Exhibition (St Petersburg: 2007), 100-1.
59. Discussed in Grimaldi, Amber: Window to the Past, 168.
60. Simonette La Barbara, ‘La produzione di maestri corallari nella letteratura artistica trapanese’, 66.
61. Quoted in Simonette, ‘La produzione di maestri corallari nella letteratura artistica trapanese’, 66. Author’s translation. On the academy, see Salvatore Denaro, ‘L’accademia di belle arti di Trapani,’ in Materiali preziosi, 95-8.
62. Di Natale, ed. Ori e argento di Sicilia dal Quattrocento al Settecento (Milan: Electa, 1989), 264-5; Vincenzo Abbate, ed. Wunderkammer siciliana alle origini del museo perduto (Palermo and Naples: Regione Sicilia and Electa 2001), 265, 268-89; Vadalà ‘Coralli e scultori,’ 378; Giovanni Travagliato, ‘Arredi e suppellettili: dall’uso alla collezione, dall’importazione all’emulazione,’ in Materiali preziosi, 289-90. Georg Laue, ed. Bernstein: Kostbarkeiten europäischer Kunstkammer (Munich: Kunstkammer Georg Laue, 2006), 247, attributes just such a miniature flacon to Germany.
63. Gockerell, Krippen im Bayerischen Nationalmuseum, 37-8, 292-3 (cat. 109 and esp. 111). Cf. G. Borrelli, Scenografie e scene del presepe napoletano (Naples: Pironti, 1991), unpaginated (cat. 106).
64. Di Natale and Vincenzo Abbate, eds. Il Tesoro nascosto, gioie e argenti per la Madonna di Trapani (Palermo: Novecento, 1995), 158.
65. Felix Bourquelot, ‘Un mois en Sicile,’ Le tour du monde : Nouveau journal des voyages publié sous la direction de M.E. Charton, et illustré par nos plus célèbres artistes 1 (1860): 12.
66. Fortuno Mondello, La Madonna di Trapani: Memorie patrie-storico-artistiche (Palermo: 1878), 100-9, no.78.
67. John Browne, An Essay on Trade in General and That of Ireland in Particular (Dublin: S. Powell, 1728), 111.
68. Vadalà, ‘Coralli e scultori,’ 393-4.
69. Karl Gottfried Hagen, ‘Geschichte der Verwaltung des Börnsteins in Preußen […] Zweiter Abschnitt. Von Friedrich I bis zur jetzigen Zeit,’ Beiträge zur Kunde Preussens 6/3 (1824): 177-99, 190
70. Ferrara, Memorie sopra, 90-91. Author’s translation.
71. Dublin International Exhibition, 1865. Kingdom of Italy Official Catalogue (2nd ed. Turin: Via Carlo Alberto, 1865), 86, no. 431
72. Unknown author, ‘Production of Amber,’ Journal of the Society of Arts 44 (October 30, 1896): 896, and Jean-Pierre Rambosson, Les pierres précieuses et les principaux ornements (2nd ed. Paris: 1884), 202-5.
73. In 1624, the bones of St Rosalia, a 12th-century anchoress were found above Palermo. See for example the ‘golden gem with St Rosalia in amber with a ring of gold and small emeralds’ donated to the Carmelite convent in Trapani. Mondello, La Madonna di Trapani, 100-9, cited in Maria Concetta di Natale, Splendori di Sicilia: arti decorative dal Rinascimento al Barocco (Milan: Charta, 2001), 333. See also di Natale, ‘Santa Rosalia,’ in Materiali preziosi, 245-54. For a figure of the Madonna of Trapani see Eugen von Philippovich, Kuriositäten, Antiquitäten. Ein Handbuch für Sammler und Liebhaber (Braunschweig: Klinkhardt and Biermann, 1966), 124-5, fig. 78.
74. Ferrara, Memorie sopra, 95. Author’s translation.
75. Trusted, Catalogue of European Ambers, 88-9. Cf. other objects in coral, such as in Coralli talismani sacri e profani (Palermo: Novecento, 1986), 405. See also the figures and busts sold at Sotheby’s Milan, Sale MI0264, 20 June 2006, lots 84-7, and the Head of a Roman Emperor on display in the Museo degli Argenti (Inv. Bg. 104) which has never been addressed in any catalogue.
76. Casket, Fritz von Miller, about 1880-85, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 02.286. The Museum of Fine Arts has been unable to provide me with any further information on the casket.
77. Ferrara, Memorie sopra, 93-5. Author’s translation.
78. Di Natale, ed. Materiali preziosi, 132-3.
79. Ibid., 169-70; Natività: fasto ed umiltà nell’iconografia presepiale siciliana dal XVIII al XX secolo (Palermo: Kronos, 1997), 50-51 for another amber Holy Family.
80. See, for example, the relief of Christ and the young St John the Baptist in Kassel, in which the composition of which reaches the edges of the field. Reproduced in, Gisela Reineking von Bock, Bernstein. Das Gold der Ostsee (Munich: Callway, 1981), 128.
81. Linda Martino, ‘Le ambre Farnese del Museo di Capodimonte,’ in Ambre: Trasparenze dall’antico, ed. Nava and Salerno, 38. On Maucher and the characteristics of his works, see Angelika Ehmer, Die Maucher. Eine Kunsthandwerkerfamilie des 17. Jahrhunderts aus Schwäbisch Gmünd (Schwäbisch Gmünd: Einhorn Verlag, 1992), 26.
82. Wilfried Seipel, ed. Bernstein für Thron und Altar. Das Gold des Meeres in fürstlichen Kunst- und Schatzkammern (Milan: Skira, 2005), 94-7; Aus der Kunstkammer Würth – Meisterwerke von 1500 bis 1800 (Künzelsau: Swiridoff Verlag, 2003), 64-65; Jutta Kappel, Bernsteinkunst aus dem Grünen Gewölbe (Dresden and Munich: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Grünes Gewölbe Dresden and Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2005), 74-5; Trusted, Catalogue of European Ambers, 59-61, 62-3.
83. Grimaldi, Amber: Window to the Past, 168.84. Many of the Sicilian objects already itemised have filigree frames, one further example is noted in di Natale, ed. Materiali preziosi, 136.