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Rock crystal salt cellar in the form of a dolphin
Metellino, Giovanni Battista
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Metellino, Giovanni Battista


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Rock crystal salt cellar in the form of a dolphin

1670 - 1700. Rock crystal / Hyaline quartz, Silver gilt.
Room 079B

The vessel is made up of five pieces of rock crystal and six silver gilt mounts with a double row of denticles and a line of pearls. It represents a dolphin with its body curved and its tail raised. The tail is divided into three sections followed by the thick trunk and head, with the teeth showing in the open mouth. The small transversally placed dorsal fins are joined on with two mounts. An oblong receptacle with gadroons, possibly a salt cellar, rests upon the head of the dolphin, to which it is joined by a mount similar to the rest. The figure originally rose on a tall metal mount with a decoration of ova, rosettes, and thirty-two lapis lazuli stones. This was stolen in 1918. It is the work of the Milanese artist Giovanni Battista Metellino.

The Museo degli Argenti in Florence has a salt cellar with a dolphin, Inventario del Bargello 1917, no. 25, that is very similar to the one in the Dauphin’s Treasure. but smaller. Attributed to Giovan Battista Metellino, it is also related to other vessels at various different museums, including a similar one in Dresden, Grünes Gewölbe, inv. VI, 36, made in enamelled gold. Several of this artist’s drawings of his works have been preserved, which has allowed scholars to group together vessels with similar stylistic characteristics.

Preserved in the Dauphin’s Treasure are several vessels attributed by Arbeteta to Metellino or his workshop, such as O99, O107, O108, and the one discussed here. These works are characterised by smooth carving and simple, compact forms adorned with small motifs like floral sprays or insects, and with vegetable compositions that give the impression of being cut off before they have reached full development. Louis XIV and his son the Dauphin gathered a good many objects of this type, and the 1689 inventory abounds with descriptions of pieces with insects and small birds scattered over their surfaces, with no decoration at all except for certain cases with undeveloped vegetable motifs. Most of those preserved at the Louvre come from the royal collection or even from the Dauphin’s, such as OA 2029, E 113, and OA 5377 and 5378. Among the pieces in this group, designs are frequently found that reach up to the very edge of the vessel, perhaps in an attempt to make the most of materials that had cracked during manufacture. If figures of animals or people appear, they tend to be rather crudely executed, with a squat and stocky physique that makes them look somewhat caricaturesque. The decoration is generally completed with a very schematic landscape. Vines, vine leaves and bunches of grapes are other frequent motifs in works of this type, accompanied by simple mounts made in silver gilt with primary techniques like filigrees, rope patterns or stamped motifs. Hardstones carved like gems are added in some cases such as the dolphin analysed here, which had several square cut lapis lazulis on its pedestal. They were stolen in 1918.

Original state: Juan Laurent y Minier, “Coupe, en cristal de roche taillé et gravé, montures d’argent doré et lapis, XVIIe siècle, règne de Henri IV”, c. 1879. Museo del Prado, HF0835/44.

Technical data

Related artworks

Albumen on photographic paper, Ca. 1863
Clifford, Jane
Inventory number
Metellino, Giovanni Battista
Rock crystal salt cellar in the form of a dolphin
1670 - 1700
Chased; Carved; Engraved; Cast
Rock crystal / Hyaline quartz; Silver gilt
Height: 44.8 cm; Width: 21.5 cm; Base/bottom: 22.5 cm; Weight: 2010 g; Ancho base: 10.4 cm; Bottom of the base: 4 cm
Tesoro del Delfín
Royal Collection

Bibliography +

Angulo Íñiguez, Diego, Catálogo de las Alhajas del Delfín, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1989 (ed.rev), pp. 178-179.

Acidini Luchinat, Cristina, Treasures of Florence. The Medici Collection 1400-1700, Prestel, Munich, 1997.

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. 276-278.

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. 111.
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 [...] 111. Un Delfin con una concha encima de la cabeza, todo de cristla de roca compuesto de seis pedazos, en la concha y barba una pieza de plata que sirve de pie, y seis engarces en lo demas tambien de plata toda dorada.

Inv. Gabinete Historia Natural, 1776. Núm. 111.
Un Delfin con una concha encima de la Caveza, todo de cristal de roca compuesto de seis pedazos: en la concha, y barba, una pieza de plata, que sirve de pie y seis engarzes en lo demas, tambien de plata dorada, vale 8.322.

Listado de objetos robados del Real Gabinete de Historia Natural en 1813 y devueltos en 1816. Núm. 111.
Un Delfín con una concha encima de la caveza, todo de cristal de roca, compuesto de seis pedazos; en la concha y barba una pieza de plata que sirve de pie, y seis engarces en lo demas tambien de plata dorada; vale ... 8.322 [Conforme: esceptuando una pequeña quebradura en la concha]

Inv. Felipe V, La Granja, Tesoro del Delfín, 1746. Núm. 94.
Un Delphin con la boca havierta, alas, y cola levantada en alto, y sobre la Caveza mantiene una Concha, todo de Christal de Roca, con seis guarniciones, y su pie todo de color de oro engastadas en él dos ordenes de piedras de Lapislazuli, qe. componen treinta, y quatro, qe, dho Delphin con el pie, tiene tercia, y once dedos de alto, y la Concha doce dedos de ancho, con Caja de Tfilete encarnado.

Agates, cristaux, procelaines, bronzes, et autres curiositez qui sont dans le Cabinet de Monseigneur le Dauphin a Versailles. Núm. 245 C.
Numº 245 / Prix contant Pistoles Donné par Mademlle. de Lillebonne / Un grand Dauphin de Cristal de roche garni au corps de trois cercles de vermeil doré et d'un cercle aux nageoires, portant une grande tasse en coquille aussi de cristal garnie au dessous d'un petit cercle; Sur un pied ovale de vermeil enrichi de petites pierres de Lapis. haut en tout de dix huit pouces. / Valeur

Exhibitions +

Die Kunst des Steinschnitts vom Mittelaller bis zum Barock. Der Zauber Edler Steine
16.12.2002 - 23.04.2003

Location +

Room 079B (On Display)

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

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