The Morgan Aldobrandini tazza will auction for $800,000

Sotheby's forthcoming Masterworks auction is to present the Morgan Aldobrandini tazza as top lot on February 1 in New York.

Morgan Aldobrandini Tazza
The winning bidder will be asked to include the piece in an exhibit that hopes to unite all 12 tazze

Described by goldsmiths expert John Hayward as "the most impressive single monument of Italian and perhaps of European goldsmiths' work of the 16th century", the spectacular piece will be sold with a $400,000-800,000 estimate. It was last sold from the Morgan Collection by Christie's in 1982, realising $1.5m against an identical estimate.

Created circa 1560-1580, the spectacular silver-gilt dish was once part of a series of 12 such pieces, which each depict one of the first 12 Caesars of imperial Rome. They are believed to have been commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, nephew to Pope Clement VIII, as recorded in his 1603 inventory.

Despite being a superlative example of the era, the present example is unmarked and as such, its maker remains unknown. However, the designs for the piece originate from Gaius Suetonius Tranquilis' De Vita Caesarum, which was written in AD121 in his position as secretary to the Emperor Hadrian.

The piece at auction shows the emperor Vespasian (AD9-79), founder of the Flavian dynasty. He stands at the centre of the dish dressed in classical armour, the pedestal engraved with his name. The dish itself has a superb guilloche border, and is separated by four columns into finely-chased scenes.

The tazza was passed down through the generations of Aldobrandini's family until it reached the hands of JP Morgan, the legendary American financier. Passed down to his son and then to the Morgan Collection, the final sale price will undoubtedly be boosted by this illustrious provenance.

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