The Aldobrandini Tazza with Emperor Otho

Authored by: Nicole Fletcher on July 29, 2013

Unknown artists, Aldobrandini Tazza with figure of Roman Emperor Otho, ca. 1530-1570. Collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, 997.158.151.

I did my undergraduate degree in art history. I love sculpture and painting and photography... but I never really got decorative arts. I mean how many plates and chairs do you see every day? However, one of my first jobs at the WAG was to accession a collection of porcelain we had just received so I was in very close contact with a beautiful tea set.  Since then my appreciation for decorative arts has blossomed. Now I'm always certain to look closely at and point out decorative arts pieces to friends and tour groups and now I am using this platform to point your attention to the beautiful and fascinating Aldobrandini Tazza on display in 100 Masters.

The Aldobrandini Tazza at the WAG is one of twelve original tazzas, each displaying one of the twelve Caesars of the Roman Empire with four bibliographic scenes. The cup was made circa 1560 and was likely created by artists from Rome and Germany. The Aldobrandini Tazzas are generally considered one of the best examples of sixteenth-century goldsmithing and the collection has had an interesting past. In the nineteenth century half of the set was bought by an Austrian art dealer, Frédéric Spitzer who wished to "improve" their appeal by changing the stems of the cups. During the renovations however, some of the cups and emperors were mismatched and only twentieth century scholarship has helped to return the emperors to their proper cups.

The tazza on display at the WAG comes from the Royal Ontario Museum and features Marcus Otho Caesar Augustus (58-68BCE). Otho himself had a tumultuous career. He was the governor of Lusitania before he aided Galba in the rebellion against Emperor Nero. After Nero's suicide rule was passed to Galba. However, when Galba passed over Otho to succeed him, Otho staged a coup. Otho then became Caesar for a very brief, three month period at which point he suffered a military defeat and committed suicide.

As you visit 100 Masters, please take a few extra minutes to study this stunning example of metalwork! Are there any other decorative arts pieces that you found particularly interesting? Or are there any works in the exhibition that you were surprised you liked? Please leave your comments below!

Nicole Fletcher works in the Education and Communications departments at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and is in the Joint Master's Program at the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg.

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