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Cup with the Four Seasons
Workshop of the Sarachi; Fontana, Annibale -Designer- ?
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Workshop of the Sarachi
Fontana, Annibale -Designer-?

Cup with the Four Seasons

1570 - 1600. Rock crystal / Hyaline quartz, Enamel, Gold.
Room 079B

This vessel has an ovate bowl with six gadroons and a lobed mouth. The shaft is formed by a triple knop, the upper and lower ones covered by enamelled gold mounts and the central one carved out of the rock crystal, with imitations of inset precious stones. The two enamelled gold mounts follow the same pattern of green scrolls framed by black whorls tooled in the gold, with a drop of red enamel in the centre to simulate a ruby cabochon. The turned stem is short, while the foot has six gadroons decorated with flower sprays and rows of seeds. The frontal gadroons contain representations of the four seasons of the year. Emerging from the lateral folds are some protuberances on which four serpents’ heads are carved, their tails descending all the way down the body of the vessel. On the lower part is a marine scene with waves and monsters. Arbeteta attributed it to the Sarachi workshop, possibly designed by Annibale Fontana.

Missing since an unknown date are the mounts of the foot and the cover, which must have been hemispherical in shape, gadrooned, and crowned with an acorn or baluster finial.

The decoration admits an allegorical reading, as Arbeteta pointed out, since it represents the four seasons in accordance with Roman and Christian visual traditions. The old man warming himself is a symbol of winter, while the goddess Flora is an evocation of spring. The pomegranates intermingled with flowers on the garland may be an allusion to Persephone, while Ceres, with her ears of corn and cornucopia, represents the summer, and Noah and the vine represent the autumn. The frontal and lateral gadroons are separated by the serpents’ tails. They may be an allusion to the monstrous Python, the daughter of Gea (the Earth), and by extension to Apollo, the god who killed her, and who symbolises the sun, responsible for the changing seasons. The lateral figures complete the reading. The young Bacchus raises the cup with the newly made wine, while the half-anthropomorphic dolphins on the waves might allude to the sailors who tried to kidnap him when he was travelling to Naxos as a youth. However, a more intricate interpretation is also possible, since they could also refer generically to the punishment awaiting those who oppose Bacchus/Dionysus, a burning issue in the context of Counter-Reformation Milan in the last two thirds of the 16th century, where there was little in the way of liberties and esotericism. It was in defence of these that an eccentric group of artists gathered in the Accademia della Val di Blenio and took Bacchus half-jokingly and half-seriously as their patron. One of those artists was the brother-in-law of the Sarachi brothers, Annibale Fontana, who may have inspired the subject. The female figure on the other side could be Amphitrite, the marine Venus or the image of Fortune. In any case, they are images of good omen related to wine and water, just as the serpent Python is related to the earth and Apollo to the sun. The lost decoration on the cover may well have completed the meaning of this apparently simple decorative programme.

The four seasons appear on numerous pieces from the Milanese workshops, normally accompanied by other scenes. There are coincidences with a ewer at the Museo degli Argenti, Inv. Gemme 1921, no. 488, with a handle in the form of a serpent, and with the jewel case of extraordinary quality, attributed to Fontana, that was donated by Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia to El Escorial, now at the Royal Palace in Madrid, inv. 10012357. Although it is more delicate, the technical language of vessel O83 has points in common with the Grape harvest vessel at the Prado (O81), the flask decorated with scenes of Orpheus and Midas at the Museo degli Argenti in Florence (Inv. Gemme 1921, no. 620), and another flask with grape harvesting scenes, formally and thematically similar, at Dresden, Grünes Gewölbe, V.186. It is highly probable that all were made at the Sarachi workshop.

Original state: Juan Laurent y Minier, “Coupe ovale, en cristal de roche taillé et gravé, montures d’or et émaux, XVIe siècle, règne de Henri III”, c. 1879. Museo del Prado, HF0835/43.

Arbeteta Mira, Letizia, El tesoro del Delfín: alhajas de Felipe V recibidas por herencia de su padre Luis, Gran Delfín de Francia, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2001, p.274,275


Technical data

Inventory number
Workshop of the Sarachi; Fontana, Annibale -Designer- ?
Cup with the Four Seasons
1570 - 1600
Enamelled; Carved; Engraved; Esmerilado
Rock crystal / Hyaline quartz; Enamel; Gold
Height: 25.2 cm; Width: 19.2 cm; Base/bottom: 13.4 cm; Weight: 1013 g
Tesoro del Delfín
Royal Collection

Bibliography +

Angulo Íñiguez, Diego, Catálogo de las Alhajas del Delfín, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1989 (ed.rev), pp. 140-141.

Arbeteta Mira, Letizia, El tesoro del Delfín: alhajas de Felipe V recibidas por herencia de su padre Luis, Gran Delfín de Francia, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2001, pp. 274,275.

Maurer, G, "Las cuatro Estaciones. La tradición mitogógica" En:, Mena Marques, Manuela B.; Goya en Madrid: cartones para tapices 1775-1794, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2014, pp. 244-251 [248 f.7.5 f.7.6 f.7.7].

Mena Marques, M.B, 'Las cuatro Estaciones. Invierno' En:, Mena Marques,Manuela B. Goya en Madrid : cartones para tapices 1775-1794, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2014, pp. 273-283 [274 f.7.39].

Arbeteta Mira, Letizia, 'Taller de los Sarachi; Annibale Fontana (?).Copa de las Cuatro Estaciones' En:, Arte transparente. La talla del cristal en el Renacimiento milanés., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. 118-121 nº 13.

Arbeteta, Leticia, 'Tesoro del delfín. Una herencia de la familia real francesa' En:, Los tesoros ocultos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2017, pp. 248-276.

Arbeteta, L. Azcue, L., El Tesoro del Delfín, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2018.

Azcue Brea, Leticia, Rarezas y lujo para deslumbrar: el Tesoro del Delfín., Ars & Renovatio.Centro de Estudios de Arte del Renacimiento, 7, 2019, pp. 504-519.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 110.
Alhajas y efectos preciosos que se hallaban colocados en el Gabinete de Historia natural y trasladados al Real Museo de Pintura y Escultura de S. M., en virtud de Rl. orden de 11 de Mayo de 1839 [...] 110. Otro jarro grande de El, con su asa y pie de cristal de roca, abiertos en el los cuatro tiempos del año, el mar con Delfines, y ramos en la base y pie; tiene tres engarces de oro esmaltado de negro, azul, verde y rojo.

Inv. Felipe V, La Granja, 1734. Núm. 22.

Inv. Gabinete Historia Natural, 1776. Núm. 110.
Un Jarro grande de cees con su asa y pie de cristal de roca, abiertos en el los quatro tiempos del año, el Mar, con Delfines y ramos en la vasa y pie, tiene tres engarzes de oro esmaltados de negro azul, verde y rojo, vale 9.527.

Listado de objetos robados del Real Gabinete de Historia Natural en 1813 y devueltos en 1816. Núm. 110.
Otro Jarro grande de Cés, con su asa y pie de cristal de roca, abiertos en él los quatro tiempos del año: el Mar con delfines y ramos en la vasa y pie; tiene tres engarces de oro esmaltados de negro, azul, verde; y rojo: vale - 9.527 [Conforme]

Inv. Felipe V, La Granja, Tesoro del Delfín, 1746. Núm. 93.
Una Copa acanalada con su pie de Christal de Roca, gravadas algunas Figuras con trece guarniciones en el pie de color de oro Esmaltado, tiene catorce dedos de alto, Caja de Tafilete encarnado y demuestra haver tenido tapa.

Agates, cristaux, procelaines, bronzes, et autres curiositez qui sont dans le Cabinet de Monseigneur le Dauphin a Versailles. Núm. 22 C.
Numº. 22 / Prix contant Pistoles 60 / Un grand Vase ovale á six godrons aux quatre coins il y a quatre serpens, et au milieu du corps, il y a six petites manieres de tableaux, representant les quatre saisons, la Fortune et Bacchus, et au fond dudit Vase il y a une mer avec des Tritons et monstres marins, sur son pied a balustre dont la patte est à six godrons, garni en trois endroits de cercles d'or emaillez de rouge et noir. haut de neuf pouces, long de sept pouces, et large de cinq pouces. / Valeur

Exhibitions +

Transparent Art. Rock Crystal Carving in Renaissance Milan
14.10.2015 - 10.01.2016

Goya in Madrid
28.11.2014 - 03.05.2015

Location +

Room 079B (On Display)

Update date: 30-04-2022 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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