Sunday, March 3, 2013

Unusual Artifacts: The Martin Nautilus Shell Cup, 1770

Jean Martin, 1770
Poland with Cameos made in Italy
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Portions of this elegant and monumental cup were made in Warsaw Poland while much of its adornment comes from pieces which were the handiwork of Italian craftsmen.  Made around 1770, this cup of a nautilus shell set in gold with onyx, chalcedony, agate, shell and glass cameos, nicely demonstrates the Neoclassical appreciation for engraved gems.

Many of the gems which grace this piece are Italian copies of then-famous carved stones and cameos.  The cup was made for the last king of Poland, Stanislaus Augustus. The central intaglio on the shell is an Italian copy in blue glass of Diomedes stealing the palladium.  The original version of this stone is called “The Felix Gem.”  It lives in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Ebgland.

The base and cover of this important cup are decorated with mother-of-pearl.
 It is signed “J.MARTIN FAIT A VARSOVIELE 26 AOUT 1770.”

The commission of this cup marks one of the earliest times that the celebrated Jean Martin worked for King Stanislaus Augustus (1769-1791) as Court Jeweler in Warsaw.
  Martin remained in this position between 1769 and 1791.  The cups creation is recorded in the royal accounts as having been ordered in 1770 and states that it was designed purely as a vehicle for displaying cameos as opposed to an object intended for practical use.  

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