Vase with hunting scenes1512 - 1572. Rock crystal / Hyaline quartz
A vessel consisting of three pieces of rock crystal. The body is shaped like an antique urn of circular cross-section with a concave-profiled neck and two winged female busts sculpted in the body itself as handles. It rests on a lobed foot that, like the top, has recently been identified. Both had been separated from the urn since the Dauphin’s Treasure returned from Switzerland, where it was sent in 1937 because of the Spanish Civil War. A complex scene that occupies the central section of the body follows the typical schemes of Milanese works and is framed above and below by the same sort of elongated concave lobes that extend into the neck area. The same design continues on the foot, which previously bore a gold adornment with black enamel, already lost in the 19th century. Diego Angulo called this urn the Hunting Vase, as the scene depicts that activity, with tiny figures on foot or on horseback, dressed classically in tunics or military garb. They are accompanied by dogs and are hunting birds, hares, a buck, a lion and a wild bore. Part of this scene seems to be based on Ovid’s description of Meleagers’ hunt in his Metamorphoses, and he and Atalanta are identifiable among the figures in the scene. Another character, who bears a lance from which a rabbit or hare is hung, could be Hispania, which is the Roman name assigned to Spain. The landscape also coincides with Ovid’s story, which describes a dense forest with flowing streams. The military appearance of certain figures stands out and may identify them as classic heroes. However, it could also indicate that the episode is actually a reference to military actions, and from a contemporary perspective, it might allude to the struggle against a variety of different enemies, the unfaithful or heretics, with Charles V or Philip II as protagonists. There may be some significance to the fact that the wild-bore hunt included not only the twins, Castor and Pollux, and Theseus, but also Jason. The later, whose Argonauts included Meleager, sought the golden fleece, a symbolic image that was adopted by the Habsburg dynasty for its Order of the Golden Fleece, or Toisón.
This vessel is very close in style to the work of Giovanni bernardi (1495-1553), and in 1929, Ernst Kris related it to Francesco Tortorino, an artist specialized in carving cameos and crystal. Two works made and signed around 1569, both of which are now in Vienna, constitute the basis for that attribution, which has been suppored by later critics. Indeed, this work’s similarity to the Triumphal Column at the Florentine Museo degli Argenti (Inv. Gemme 1921, no. 723), has definitively confirmed the attribution to Tortorino. Some details, including the trees, the waves in the water, the form of the human hair and the long fur of certain animals are similar in those works.
This is one of the pieces in the Dauphin’s Treasure, a group of precious vessels from the sumptuous collection of Louis, Grand Dauphin of France, which were brought to Spain by his son and heir, Philip V, the first Spanish monarch from the Bourbon dynasty. Louis of France (1661-1711), was the son of Louis XIV and Marie Theresa of Austria. Influenced by his father, he began collecting at an early age, acquiring his works in a variety of manners, including gifts and purchases at auctions. Following the Dauphin’s death, Philip V (1683-1746) inherited a group of vessels, which were sent to Spain with their respective cases. In 1716, they were at the Alcázar in Madrid but were later moved to La Granja de San Ildefonso, where they were listed in the so-called Casa de las Alajas following Philip V’s death. In 1776, they were deposited in the Royal Cabinet of Natural History at the behest of Charles III, and they remained there until it was sacked by French troops in 1813. These works were returned two years later, although some were lost. The Dauphin’s Treasure entered the Royal Museum in 1839, but was again stolen in 1918. During the Spanish Civil war, these works were sent to Switzerland. When they were returned in 1939, one vessel was missing. They have been on exhibit at the Villanueva Building since then (Text drawn from Arbeteta, L.: El Tesoro del Delfín. Catálogo Razonado, 2001, pp. 295-297, and from Idem: Arte transparente. La talla del cristal en el Renacimiento milanés, 2015, pp. 64-69).