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Tortoise boat
Fontana, Annibale ?
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Fontana, Annibale ?

Milan, 1540 - Milan, 1587

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Tortoise boat

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

A tall-footed cup whose bowl has the form of a ship’s hull with a pointed prow and a slightly raised stern, while below are a balustroid stem and a tortoise for a foot, all formed by three pieces of rock crystal joined by two enamelled gold mounts. The decoration of the bowl is extremely fine, and may have had a political significance. The mount on the foot was stolen in 1918. Where its authorship is concerned, notwithstanding similarities between its foot and stem and certain works by Gasparo Miseroni (1518-1573) and his family workshop, the piece displays a certain rigidity, with flat planes and a clearly delimited profile. It has been attributed to Annibale Fontana (1540-1587) owing to the figures’ physical resemblance to a cup at the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, inv. 1415, and to a bottle of mediaeval origin at the same museum, inv. 1490, with decoration based on the zodiac. Both are attributed to this artist.

Decoration of the rock crystal The prolix decoration of the bowl consists of an enclosed pattern marked off by a longitudinal moulding. On the upper part, there are two dragons and vegetable scrolls at the prow, two storks with serpents on the lip, and garlands with fruits and two reclining figures at the stern, while running around the rim is a frieze with putti or children. Underneath there is a round composition showing a marine scene, with Amphitrite and Neptune standing on a shell-shaped chariot drawn by marine horses, the personifications of two rivers, battling Tritons, a dragon, a boy pouring water from a pitcher, the winds blowing, and so on. The boys, who on one side are playing games and on the other are seen with instruments like military drums, may symbolise war and peace. Maritime decoration often appears on the bottom of other vessels, and in this case has a stylistic and compositional relationship with several of them, such as the Platter with the story of Hermaphroditus and cameos of the Twelve Caesars at the Prado, O-80; vessel MR 319 at the Louvre, from the circle of the Sarachi or Fontana; and the cup with marine scenes at the Museo degli Argenti, Inventario Gemme 1921, no. 702. The similitude in design may be the result of a common iconographic source in the Roman world, where there are very similar representations of the various marine characters that were disseminated in numerous series of Renaissance prints. The subject could have its visual origin in compositions like those of Mantegna, Perino del Vaga, Salviati, Delaune, Du Cerceau, De Bry, the Collaerts and many others who created scenes resembling those reproduced on the rock crystal pieces mentioned above, some of them with round compositions, such as the designs of Erasmus Hornick preserved at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

The mount that links the bowl with the stem is of gold, with whorls of black enamel and a thick voluted knop adorned with scrolls, leaves and fruits enamelled in bright colours. On the lower mount, the translucent enamel simulates ruby drops set in scrolls.

According to Arbeteta, the unusual presence of the two personifications of rivers or springs may refer either to the waters, fresh or salt, over which Neptune reigns, or more specifically to the springs of hot and cold water which, as Plato describes in his dialogue Critias, the sea god caused to gush forth on the island of Atlantis, which in its turn had a mountain and a fertile plain. In his introduction to his own translation of Critias, Marsilio Ficino argues that Atlantis is not a myth, since Plato refers to it as a “true history”. This opens the gates for a political interpretation. The storks with serpents in their beaks, a motif already found in Roman painting, also have a clear symbolic meaning besides a purely decorative purpose, since the bird symbolises purity, rectitude, valour and the Roman pietas augusta. With a serpent in its beak, it stands for a strong prince who destroys pernicious foes, especially religious enemies. Another detail to consider is the tortoise on the foot, a possible reference to the motto Festina lente (“make haste slowly”) adopted by Cosimo de’Medici.

The Museo del Prado has the photograph by Juan Laurent y Minier, Tasse ovale, cristal de roche gravé, montures d’or émaillé, XVIe siècle, règne de Henri II, hacia 1879. Museo del Prado, HF0835/34.

Technical data

Related artworks

Case for tortoise boat
Leather, Wood, Metal, Velvet, 1570 - 1590
Inventory number
Fontana, Annibale ?
Tortoise boat
Ca. 1570 (Vessel); 1570 - 1590 (Adornments)
Chased; Enamelled; Carved; Engraved; Esmerilado
Rock crystal / Hyaline quartz; Enamel; Gold
Height: 20.3 cm; Width: 24 cm; Base/bottom: 12.5 cm; Weight: 656 g; Ancho base: 12.3 cm; Bottom of the base: 6.8 cm
Tesoro del Delfín
Royal Collection

Bibliography +

Angulo Íñiguez, Diego, Catálogo de las Alhajas del Delfín, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1989 (ed.rev), pp. 124-125.

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. 197-199.

Arbeteta Mira, Letizia, 'Annibale Fontana. Barco de la Tortuga' En:, Arte transparente. La talla del cristal en el Renacimiento milanés., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. 80-85 n.4.

Azcue Brea,L. Simal López,M. Cardito,Y., 'La participación de piezas del Tesoro del Delfín del Museo del Pradoen la Exposición Histórico-Natural y Etnográfica' En:, Ministerio de Educación Cultura y Deporte, Madrid, 2017, pp. 295-308

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. 87.
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 [...] Cristales 87. Primeramente un vaso con su pie hechura de Galapago y base, el que está abierto de diferentes figuras y ramos en el pie y base; en el principio de el tiene tres piezas de oro esmaltadas de verde, azul, blanco y rojo.

Inv. Felipe V, La Granja, 1734. Núm. 211.

Inv. Gabinete Historia Natural, 1776. Núm. 87.
Primeramte. un vaso, con su pie hechura de Galapago, y vasa: el que esta abierto con diferentes figuras, y ramos, en el pie y vasa: en el principio de el tiene tres piezas de oro, esmaltadas de verde, azul, blanco, y rojo, vale 4.612.

Listado de objetos robados del Real Gabinete de Historia Natural en 1813 y devueltos en 1816. Núm. 87.
Primeramente un vaso con su pie, hechura de Galapago y vasa, el que está abierto con diferentes figuras y ramos en el pie y vasa; en el principio de él tiene tres piezas de oro esmaltadas de verde azul, blanco y rojo; vale ... 4.612 [Conforme]

Inv. Felipe V, La Granja, Tesoro del Delfín, 1746. Núm. 55.
Otra Copita en forma de Barco, con unas Figuras al reededor su pie, y en él un Galapago todo de Christal de Roca, con tres guarniciones de Color de oro, esmaltado de diferentes Colores, y tiene por la Proa doce dedos de alto. Con Cja de Tafilete negro.

Agates, cristaux, procelaines, bronzes, et autres curiositez qui sont dans le Cabinet de Monseigneur le Dauphin a Versailles. Núm. 211 C.
Numº 211 / Prix contant Pistoles 120 / Un grand Vase en Gondole gravé au bord de jeux d'enfans et de festons de fleurs et de fruits et dans le fond d'un Neptune dans son char sur les eaues avec d'autres figures et les quatre vents, sur son pied à balustre posé sur une tortuë enrichi de trois cercles d'or emaillé de bleu, rouge et verd; haut de sept pouces, long de neuf pouces une ligne et large de quatre pouces et demi. / Valeur

Exhibitions +

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

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

Location +

Room 079B (On Display)


Displayed objects +

Instruments, Musical

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

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