A complete set of 12 silver Caesars that are magnificent examples of Renaissance metalwork are now on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The superb technical virtuosity of Renaissance silversmiths is nowhere more evident than in the magnificent set of 12 silver-gilt standing cups from the 16th century known collectively as the Aldobrandini Tazze. Each of the Tazze stands over a foot tall and features a shallow footed dish surmounted by a figure of one of the first 12 Caesars. On the intricately wrought interior of each dish appears four episodes from the life of the corresponding ruler, as recounted by the Roman historian Suetonius. Although the Tazze are among the finest and rarest examples of 16th century European silverwork, little is known about their creation. The questions of when, where, why, for whom and by whom these splendid luxury objects were made will be addressed in the exhibition The Silver Caesars: A Renaissance Mystery. The complete set has not been seen together since the mid-19th century, when it was disassembled and dispersed, its parts misidentified and mismatched. In addition, the elements of all 12 Tazze will be displayed in their original configuration—a unique opportunity for modern viewers to appreciate one of the most enigmatic monuments of the work of 16th century goldsmiths.
The Silver Caesars will highlight the elegance of the astonishing Tazze, presenting them with a small selection of other works in silver and other media, including both ancient and Renaissance coins and medals and Renaissance prints, books and paintings. The exhibition will consider such topics as 19th century views of the Renaissance and Renaissance views of ancient Rome. Examples of 19th century works that the Tazze inspired will also be included. In addition to offering new insights into the Tazze and their history, the exhibition will explore the set’s famously mysterious reputation, engaging the visitor in tracing clues that may lead to a better understanding of this Renaissance masterpiece.
Within the exhibition, a digital component featuring high-resolution photography of two Tazze will enable visitors to explore these works and their antiquarian imagery in greater depth. This material, including narration by Mary Beard, Professor of Classics, University of Cambridge, is also available on The Met website.