Caterina Sforza and the Art of Appearances by Joyce De Vries

Caterina Sforza and the Art of Appearances by Joyce De Vries

Author:Joyce De Vries
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Routledge

Other decorative items fashioned in silver from the 1490 inventory would have appeared throughout the palace. Caterina could have checked her toilette in a large mirror with a lamp on one side and a festive scene of ladies and putti on the other. Or, she could have peered into a footed, round mirror that featured the coat of arms of a bishop, with images of Christ and other figures on the back in relief and enamel and its own black leather cover. A silver box, perhaps set on a table in a camera, contained several precious items: a cross with fifty pearls and twelve jewels, a second, smaller cross with seven pearls and four jewels, two crystal spoons with gold and enamel work, and a small mirror backed with an image of the Madonna surrounded by ten pearls and ten different jewels. A small square silver inkstand with Pietro Riario's arms on the top and bottom would have been an essential element for a writing desk, and a box with a piece of red coral, a good luck charm to ward off evil, might have been placed nearby.55 Servants could have tended to the hearth with a pair of fire tongs and a bellows, both in silver.

Splendid items that promoted the family's social and political presence through good design and heraldry were not always as precious as the spectacular silver. A few surviving and undocumented dishes from the Riario court exemplify a more quotidian splendor. A small glass footed bowl, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, features the quartered Riario-Sforza arms painted in its the center (Illustration 3.6). The upper portion of the bowl is clear glass decorated with a gilt acanthus leaf pattern. This contrasts with the bowl's base and foot, which are fashioned with a variety of translucent colors swirled together, a pattern that became known as chalcedony glass. There were several salt cellars and cups of actual chalcedony in the Riario inventories, and this dish was made of colored glass blended together to mimic the milky veining of the exotic semi-precious stone. In the fifteenth century, artisans on the Venetian island of Murano developed this technique, and others, that allowed them to imitate expensive and ancient materials. While products made with these new techniques were easier to produce, less costly, and accessible to a broader group of consumers, they were nonetheless prized—and well-displayed—because they demonstrated modern ingenuity and might even fool the eye of the uninitiated.56 The Riario-Sforza dish was probably produced in Venice, the center of innovative glass production, and it might have been a wedding or diplomatic gift. The couple made a state visit to the Venetian Republic in 1481 and they might have purchased or received it then. The quartered arms are actually Caterina's married stemma, so the dish might have been made exclusively for her, whether on her commission or as a gift.

Other extant examples of basic tableware, a ceramic plate and three small bowls, carry slightly different versions of the Riario arms (Illustrations 3.


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