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The Victoria & Albert Museum
For centuries, curators have debated about this object. What exactly is it? Most believe that it’s probably an inkwell. The top of the object has been lost, and so, its original function is uncertain. It was given to the Victoria & Albert Museum by Walter Leo Hildburgh, one of the most dedicated and generous patrons in the history of the V&A whose passion for the art of Spain and Portugal, allowed the museum to acquire the finest collection of Hispanic silver in the world. Hildburgh developed a delightful habit of giving the Museum presents at Christmas and on his own birthday. This was one of them.
The object features a round body of yellow marble with black streaks, a gilt brass lip band, and a silver cartouche with an oval center decorated with strapwork on a ground of dark blue. A unicorn perches at the apex. It is thought to have been made between 1600-1625 in Spain. Clearly, it is damaged and missing pieces at the top. Some suggest that it might have once surmounted a clock or another more monumental base. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful object even in its current mysterious form.