Renaissance Mortar with Life Casts
Nuremberg, ca 1550
Bronze, brown patina
Height 12.5 cm, upper diameter 16.5 cm
Provenance: France, Charles Boucaud Collection
Published in: Laue, G.: Wenzel Jamnitzer. A Renaissance Mortar, Kunstkammer Edition, Vol. 2, Munich 2016; Laue, G.: The Kunstkammer. Wonders are Collectable, Kunstkammer Edition, Vol. 1, Munich 2016, pp. 56-57, p. 117, Cat. No. 30, Fig. 38; Kunst und Alchemie. Das Geheimnis der Verwandlung, exhibition at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf 2014, p. 127, Cat. No. 52; Spenlé, V.: Wenzel Jamnitzer's Mortar: Life Casting and Court Experimentalism in the 16th Century, in: Gáldy, A. M./ Heudecker, S.: Collecting Nature, Newcastle 2014, pp. 37-56
This mortar is completely decorated with plastic ornaments, including life casts of animals and plants as well as plaques with allegorical scenes by Peter Flötner (ca 1490-1546). The quality of the life casts and its balanced composition characterise this piece as a particularly significant artwork. At the same time, this work was an example of a luxury object, which was apparently used despite its high value. In total, only four other comparable mortars have been preserved worldwide: at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin (Fig. 1), at the Cleveland Museum of Art (Fig. 3), at the Victoria and Albert Museum (Fig. 2), and in the Wallace Collection (Fig. 4) in London. All of these mortars have figural scenes upon them that are framed by plants and lizards. The life casts on the mortars differ from one piece to another, for the real plants and animals that were used for the modelling of the sides of the mortar were burned with each manufacturing process in order to leave behind a hollow mould. Hence a variety of plants in different formations can be seen in this group of five mortars. In comparison, the same plaques have been used repeatedly for the allegorical representations; therefore, the present mortar and its counterparts in London, Berlin, and Cleveland are truly unique artworks. These can be attributed to the well-known goldsmith from Nuremburg, Wenzel Jamnitzer, on the basis of the life casts in combination with the plaques from Peter Flötner.