phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
The Silver Caesars: A Mystery in Buckinghamshire

The Silver Caesars: A Mystery in Buckinghamshire

12 May 2018 | Suzanne Frost

In 1862 a London antiques dealer came across a set of Renaissance silver that caused a great stir: 12 standing cups – known as the Aldobrandini Tazze – each made of a foot, a dish and adorned with the figure of one of the Caesars, the rulers of ancient Rome. Where did they come from, who made them, for what purpose? It is a mystery. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and curator Julia Siemon along with classicist and scholar Mary Beard immersed themselves in research, uncovering secrets and theories around the enigmatic treasures.

So how did these treasures end up somewhere in the English countryside of Buckinghamshire? Waddesdon Manor is the seat of four generations of the English side of the Rothschild family, one of the richest and most powerful European families of the 19th century. At least 5 of the Silver Caesars were in the family’s possession when research began – collecting art is in their blood - so it was in the Rothschild’s particular interest to display the Silver Caesars at Waddesdon. Most of the Caesars belong to private collections scattered around the globe. To make matters worse, the fact that the Tazze can be disassembled into seven parts, presumably to facilitate travel, resulted in them being mixed up over the centuries, misidentified and widely dispersed across Europe and America. Some of the original feet had been replaced by an eager Parisian dealer at the end of the 19th century and one figurine, the emperor Titus, has been permanently lost (most Renaissance silver got melted during the wars). The 12 Tazze, reassembled in the correct way and on display together, is something that hasn’t been seen for 150 years, and will never be seen again.

Image Credit: Mike Fear
 
They are an intriguing lot. There is no record of their origin. They were in the possession of cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini in 1603 but he was not the original patron. Each dish over which the figure of the Caesar resigns majestically depicts 4 scenes from his life, divided by columns. The scenes are specifically chosen to celebrate imperial power and show off the Caesars as good rulers. “The Caesars are depicted on their best behaviour”, laughs curator Julia Siemon. Even the pyromaniac Nero is celebrated for his devotion to the arts (he was singing while Rome was burning) and emperor Otho, who reigned for three sorry months, has his defeat and suicide depicted as a noble gesture for the empire. Some Caesars were pretty horrible rulers but the artist of the Tazze went out of their way searching for atleast one good deed in each of their lifetimes, which leads historians to believe that the silver dishes were a political gift, intended to celebrate leadership and serve as a reminder of greatness and responsibility. Silver was historically a political gift - it is art literally made out of money! - and these big fruit dishes were most definitely not intended for use. They were most likely shown around the table and then locked away. They are story-telling objects though and you can imagine that the silver relief profile of the scenes would really stand out in candlelight and could be ‘read’ by turning the dish around.
 
One hypothesis that seems likely is that they were a gift to the Habsburg family, the rulers of Europe. Cues in the manufacturing and the landscapes depicted in the dishes suggest they were made north of the Alps, possibly in the Southern Netherlands. Each Tazze was made by a one artist but together, they point towards the work of an artists studio. Bowing to 19th century taste, the Tazze were later guilded, which makes them appear gold and also unfortunately somewhat depletes the sharpness of the original relief. It does however confirm that the collection was still in one hand at this stage. The Silver Caesars tell us some of their story but remain shrouded in mystery.

Image Credit: Suzzanne Frost

The rest of Waddesdon Manor has more treasures to offer from Baron Ferdinand’s collection of French calendars to the trail of Reynolds paintings throughout the house, the atmospheric and surprisingly cosy smoking room that Ferdinand called his “Renaissance Museum”, to the weapons arsenal his sister Alice, one of the few women collecting armoury, displayed in the hallway. Renowned for their Bordeaux wine, you can also admire two columns made entirely of Chateau Lafite bottles in front of the manor house or tour their wine cellar where priceless bottles (some vintages date from 1865) rest in incredibly glamorous looking vaults lit tastefully by chandeliers. The vast grounds of Waddesdon Manor boast fields of daffodils in the wild flower valley, a rose garden and a cast-iron aviary housing some amazingly colourful exotic birds.

Image Credit: Suzanne Frost

The Silver Caesars will be on display until 22 July with a curator’s tour on 14 June. Entry to the Silver Caesars is free with house and grounds admission. Waddesdon Manor is open Wednesday – Sunday from 21 March - 28 October with the grounds accessible 21 March - 4 November. There is a free shuttle bus service from Aylesbury Vale Parkway station to the visitor Welcome Pavilion. Waddesdon Manor is in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP18 0JH.

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Edinburgh: A City of Literature

Edinburgh: A City of Literature

Back in 2004, Edinburgh became a pioneering force when it claimed the title as the first Unesco City of Literature. The city has both a…

The Marvellous Mechanical Museum at Compton Verney

The Marvellous Mechanical Museum at Compton Verney

In a world where we are becoming dependent on computers and are being introduced to burgeoning virtual reality technology, it seems that the relationship between…

Edinburgh Art Festival: An Interview with Sorcha Carey

Edinburgh Art Festival: An Interview with Sorcha Carey

Edinburgh has plunged into its annual August madness, as it plays hosts to numerous festivals over the month, from the Fringe Festival to the International…

The Changing Face of Bristol’s Music Scene

The Changing Face of Bristol’s Music Scene

Change is what makes cities. It makes them vibrant, exciting places to live, a foil to sleepy countryside villages. But when it comes to culture,…

The Original Mail-Order Bride!

The Original Mail-Order Bride!

Whilst Hampton Court Palace has an extensive history spanning many periods, it is perhaps most famous for being the one-time home of Henry VIII, the…

Mindfulness Retreats in the UK

Mindfulness Retreats in the UK

Recent years has seen a growth in mindfulness. All across the UK there’s a whole range of retreats, perfect for escaping to when life gets a…

Top 5 Manchester Bars

Top 5 Manchester Bars

Nipping on London’s heels, Manchester is quickly establishing itself as the capital’s rival - whether that’s with its blossoming cultural industries, legendary music scene or, in this…

The National Eisteddfod of Wales 2018

The National Eisteddfod of Wales 2018

The Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru (National Eisteddfod of Wales) is an annual eight-day arts festival with historic roots tracing back to the twelfth century. Considered the…

A Guide to Nightlife in York

A Guide to Nightlife in York

If you ask someone what to do in York, they may suggest visiting the Minster or hiring a boat and cruising down the River Ouse,…

This Class Works at 92 Burton Road, Sheffield

This Class Works at 92 Burton Road, Sheffield

Artist Pete Mckee presents his latest exhibition offering a personal perspective on the life of the working class

Most popular

“Art and life imitating each other”: An Interview with Richard Twyman

“Art and life imitating each other”: An Interview with Richard Twyman

We chatted to Director Richard Twyman, about English Touring Theatre’s latest production of Othello, which re-analyses the classic play through the lens of religion and spirituality.
“Radical, unconventional and international… much like the artists who lived here”

“Radical, unconventional and international… much like the artists who lived here”

The Bloomsbury Group may be a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean their work and relevance has to be. In this spirit, Charleston House in East Sussex has opened an exhibition space filled with work inspired by the work of the renowned artistic group!
Windsor, Booze and Running Shoes: An Interview with Holly Light

Windsor, Booze and Running Shoes: An Interview with Holly Light

Think a beer (or two) at the finish line would make you run a bit faster? Then the British Beer Run is the event for you! We chatted to Holly Light from AAT Events about the upcoming race in Windsor on 13 October.
The Trocks on Tour!

The Trocks on Tour!

If you’re a fan of RuPaul’s drag race, and also a dance devotee, then you’ll love Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Catch the all-male comedic ballet company as they tour the UK through till November!
Films to look forward to from Venice Film Festival!

Films to look forward to from Venice Film Festival!

Why not check out our summary of what films to (and what not to!) look forward to from the Venice Biennale? With many of the films soon to be streamed on Netflix, you’ll soon be able to get a taste of the world’s oldest film festival right from your sofa!
Gardens just don’t lose their charm for artists!

Gardens just don’t lose their charm for artists!

The Enchanted Garden at Newcastle’s Laing Gallery explores how gardens have been an ongoing inspiration through 100 years of art history. We chatted to curator Amy Barker to learn more about the artists who have flirted with fauna and flora in their work.
Stones Rock! – Top 5 Shingle Beaches in the UK

Stones Rock! – Top 5 Shingle Beaches in the UK

Tomorrow (16 September) is collect rocks day, so why not become a geologist and pick up some pebbles from one of the UK’s Top 5 stone and shingle beaches in our handy guide? We’re sure they will rock your world!
“A homecoming gig”: An Interview with Jimmy Aldridge

“A homecoming gig”: An Interview with Jimmy Aldridge

We chatted to musician Jimmy Aldridge from “Jimmy and Sid” about the folk duo’s latest album, and their upcoming gig in Leeds – where Jimmy bought his first banjo!
“You want to try and come up with a universal Trunch for everybody…”

“You want to try and come up with a universal Trunch for everybody…”

Today is Roald Dahl Day, and as we speak, Miss. Trunchbull, the headmistress we’re glad we never had, is making her way across the country for the UK Tour of Matilda! We chatted to Craige Els who plays Trunch about what it’s like to be the iconic villain!
Top 5 Swashbuckling Pirate Adventures in the UK

Top 5 Swashbuckling Pirate Adventures in the UK

Shiver me timbers, next Wednesday (19 September) is Talk Like a Pirate Day! There “argh!” plenty of events to help you to get into character before the celebrations, so grab your cutlass and head to one of the best swashbuckling activities around the UK!

Your inbox deserves a little culture!