A SMALL COLLECTION OF ANTIQUE SILVER
AND OBJECTS OF VERTU

an article of Giorgio Busetto - www.silvercollection.it
for ASCAS - Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
a small collection of antique silver and objects of vertu
 
(click on photos to enlarge)

BURIED TREASURES

Burying the silver to prevent an enemy' robbery is an ancient practice, still surviving in recent times.

Between 1996 and 1998 the so-called Moritzburg Treasure was found in the forest near the Castle of Moritzburg where it was buried before the Russian Army's occupation of the German town of Dresden.
The 'Treasure' consists of some hundreds of jewelry and silverware pieces belonging to the heirs of the Royal House of Saxony.
Moritzburg's treasure
 
The Moritzburg Treasure
with Moor's head cup and
Basket of Flowers
Moritzburg's treasure Among the pieces found in the forest were the 'Moor's Head Cup' made by Christoph Jamnitzer in 1615 and the jewelled and enamelled gold and silver 'Basket of Flowers' presented by Johann Melchior Dinglinger to Augustus the Strong in Warsaw at Christmas 1701.
Notwithstanding, only three of 43 boxes buried in 1945 were recovered from the Royal Wettin House heirs as the others were located and removed in 1947, during the Russian occupation of Germany.
The Moritzburg Treasure
 

Far more unfortunate were the owners of other treasures buried during the time of the ancient Roman Empire. They never recovered their assets and, fully unintentionally, allowed their precious silverware pieces made over 1500 years ago to survive intact until our days:
The Treasure of Seuso and the Treasure of Kaiseraugust
.


The Treasure of Seuso

There is no certainty on the origin of this treasure, although it is thought that it was found in Lebanon about 1970. Another, and more probable hypothesis, is that its origin was Pannoniae (Hungary), as the only geographic indication found on the treasure is the name of the lake 'Pelso', which is the Latin name of the lake Balaton that is situated in West Hungary.
The pieces, all made between the 4th and the 5th century after Christ, were packed into a large bronze pail dating to the 6th or 7th century after Christ which preserved the content from oxidation and maintained the silver in perfect condition. The most plausible hypothesis is that the treasure was buried in the 7th century, at the time of the Arabic conquests.

 
dish with central dedication to Seuso
 
Dish with central medallion with Seuso dedication
dedication to Seuso on the center of the dish The treasure derives its 'Seuso' name from the Latin inscription on the central medallion of a large dish that allows us to identify the owner ('That these small containers, oh Seuso, belong to you and your descendants for many centuries and prove worthy of them' 'HEC SEUSO TIBI DURENT PER SAECULA FINES POSTERIS UT PROSENT VASCULA DIGNA TUIS').
The central medallion has a niello decoration representing hunting and the banquet of Seuso. Other hunting scenes are on the edge (the diameter is 27 3/4 in.).
The central medallion with Seuso dedication
 

The treasure is constituted comprehensively of 14 silver objects and, besides the dish of Seuso, includes:
- another four dishes of differing size,
- five pitchers of varied measure with vertical handle, embossed and nielloed,
- an ewer embossed with a Dionysiac procession,
- two 'situle' (note 1) embossed with scenes of the myth of Hippolyte and Phèdre,
- A cylindrical container with conical cover embossed with scenes of a lady's toilet

silver jug

silver jug

silver amphora

pitcher with geometrical
and floral engravings,
22 in. high (a pair)
 
pitcher with 120 hexagonal panels engraved and nielloed with human and animal figures and geometrical motifs
(20 in. high)
silver gilt ewer with embossing of a Dionysiac procession and handles in the shape of two panthers (15 1/4 in. high)

embossed situla

cylindrical container with cover

situla (note 1) embossed with
scenes of the myth of Hippolyte and
Phèdre, 11 1/2 in. high (a pair))
cylindrical container with conical
cover embossed with scenes of a
lady's toilet (12 1/2 in. high)

dish with waves and geometrical motifs

Meleagro's dish

dish with waves and geometrical motifs
(18 in. diameter)
'dish of Meleagro' decorated with
Calidone's wild boar hunting scenes
(28 in. diameter)


The Treasure of Kaiseraugust

The provenance of the Kaiseraugust's Treasure is well known, but the circumstances of its finding are absolutely astonishing.</p>
detail of Kaiseraugust's treasure In February of 1962 the archeological authority of Augst (Switzerland) received the report of the finding of silverware pieces inside the ancient Roman military installation (castrum) of Kaiseraugust.
The objects were brought to light by a mechanical shovel excavating the foundations of a building at the inside of the ancient 'castrum', but no one realized that precious archeological silver items had been discovered.

 
The Kaiseraugust's treasure (part)
 
The objects remained at the excavation site, were covered by the snow, and only after a month the inhabitants of the area, fully unaware of the importance of the finding, proceeded to recover and to preserve, just for an idle curiosity, some pieces brought up from the excavation.
After patient research at the site, within the excavation materials and retrieved from the inhabitants of the area (for some the objects were only 'old pans for sweets'), 257 silver pieces were recovered, comprising 187 coins and medals, for a total weight of almost 1300 oz. (37 kg) of silver.



 
dish decorated with a harbour on the center
 
dish with central medallion
representing a harbour
(diam. 23 1/4 in.)
silver Venus with mirror The finding was done near the walls of the 'castrum' of the ancient Roman town of Augusta Raurica, established in the age of Emperor August on the Rhine river shore, along the northern border of the Roman Empire.
After the initial period of prosperity supported by its favourable geographic location, the town, which eventually had 15,000 inhabitants, suffered heavily due to the precariousness of its border position under the pressure of the barbaric populations of the Alemannic tribes and was entirely abandoned at the end of the 4th century A.D.
The 1st Legio 'Martia' was charged with the protection of the Rhine border by the Emperor Diocletian. The military headquarter was established in the Castrum Rauracense in the 'old town' and near the bridge crossing the river Rhine.

 
small statue of Venus looking at the mirror
(4 1/2 in. high)
 

The treasure was buried in about 350 A.D., a period characterized by hard struggles between the sons of Emperor Constantine (Flavius Valerius Constantinus or Constantine the Great) and the usurper Magnetius (this date was achieved studying the coins contained in the treasure).
Many of these pieces are roughly inscribed with the names of their owners (Marcellianus and P. Romulus) or with the signature and the town of origin of the craftsman, Euticius of Naissus (note 2) and Pausylypos of Thessalonica (note 3)
.
 
dish with a star on the center
 
dish with a star on the centre
(diam. 16 1/2 in.)

The main part of the treasure consists of by silver tableware of various shapes, spoons (with long handle and with short handle ending in a ring), smooth or embossed basins, candlesticks, richly decorated dishes, a small statue of Venus and numerous coins kept in rolls.

dish engraved with a fishr

tray with Arianna, Dioniso and a satyr

small dish engraved with a fish

dish with fish decoration
(10 1/2 in. long)


 
tray with central insert with Ariadne between Dionysus and a satyr (16 1/2 in. long)
small dish with a fish

 

Endnotes

(1) The Latin word 'situla' conventionally identifies a pot of conic or ovoidal shape. Its specific function was to get and to contain liquid. The pictures of some Etruscan pots and of the ceramics show its use as a bucket to get the water from the well, like container of sacred water in religious ceremonies, like a pot for libations or for collecting the blood of the victims during the sacrifices or the bacchical rites.
Typical of 2nd and 3rd century A.D. are the silver 'situla' with deep domed bowl copied by similar items made in bronze by Gallic and German populations.
(2) Nis, in Yugoslavia (now Serbia)
(3) Thessalonica, in Macedonya (Greece)

Giorgio Busetto - © 2005 -
www.silvercollection.it
this article is published on website                               
English home page
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