The history of the cameo

1600 The cameo and cup were carved by the Miseroni family

Shell-shaped cup, attributed to Ottavio Miseroni (1600–1700)
© 2019 Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier
Venus and Cupid, attributed to Giovanni Ambrogio Miseroni (1600–1700)
© 1730 Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Kunstkammer © KHM-Museumsverband

The cameo and cup were both carved in the early 17th century by the Miseroni, a famous Milanese family of hardstone carvers.
The Miseroni had already been established as precious metal and hardstone carvers in Milan for over a century when Gasparo (1518–1573) took over the family workshop, assisted by his younger brother Girolamo (1522–1600). Gasparo was a highly original artist who followed his creative imagination to work out his designs in wax before carving the stone, in a true dialogue between artist and material. He created a repertoire of original, undefinable, organic forms that were a characteristic of the Miseroni family’s production for half a century and are beautifully exemplified by the shell-shaped cup attributed to his brother Ottavio (1600–1700).
Giovanni Ambrogio (1551–1616) took over the family’s Milanese workshop in 1584 when his father left to work on the tabernacle in the chapel of El Escorial Church (Spain). Giovanni appears to have divided his time between Milan and Prague, and probably played a key role in establishing a Miseroni workshop at the court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who ennobled Giovanni and his brothers in 1608.

1661 The cameo and cup were first mentioned in Cardinal Mazarin’s collection inventory

Portrait of Jules Mazarin (1602–1661), Philippe de Champaigne
© 2000 RMN-Grand Palais (château de Versailles) / Gérard Blot
Large heliotrope nef, attributed to Ottavio Miseroni
© 2019 Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier
Portrait of Louis XIV, Hyacinthe Rigaud
© 2020 RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Stéphane Maréchalle

Cardinal Mazarin, the greatest collector of his time, died in 1661. The countless treasures in his collection inventory included a remarkable group of 200 hardstone vessels, among which were the Miseroni cameo and cup, described in the inventory as follows: ‘A large shell-shaped cup carved from a single piece of German agate, upheld by a silver-gilt dolphin placed on a shell that is also of silver gilt, with another large German shell as its lid, also shell-shaped, carved with a nude Venus lying on a drapery next to a small Cupid and decorated with a silver-gilt rim.
Three vessels in the collection were particularly remarkable for their very high estimated value, in excess of 2,000 pounds. These are the large heliotrope nef (a masterpiece carved by Ottavio Miseroni for Emperor Rudolf II), a rare ancient vase mounted in France during the Renaissance by Richard Toutain, and finally, the Miseroni cup. These three vessels were acquired by King Louis XIV at Mazarin’s death and thus entered the royal collections. The first two – but not the third – are now on display in the Louvre’s Galerie d’Apollon.

1796 The Miseroni cameo left the royal collections

The Grande Galerie at the Louvre, between 1794 and 1796
© 2004 RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Stéphane Maréchalle

At the French Revolution, many artworks from the royal collections were confiscated and entrusted to the Muséum Central des Arts, the future Louvre. This was the case with the Miseroni cup, inventoried in the royal collection of hardstone vessels under no. 376.
In 1796, the Directory decided to pay some of the Republic’s creditors in kind, with artworks from the former royal collections. That is how, on 28 September 1796, Jacques de Chapeaurouge (1744–1805) acquired a large number of objects: 145 hardstone vessels, 56 bronzes and a number of weapons. The batch included ‘A gadrooned, oval, shell-shaped cup adorned with a silver-gilt dolphin, with a lid decorated with a silver-gilt swan. Estimated at 4,000 francs.
The trace of most of those artworks, including the Miseroni cup and cameo, was then lost.

1968 The cup reappeared at an auction

The cameo was marked with the number 376
© 2021 Collection particulière, avec l’aimable autorisation de Sotheby’s

Over five hundred years after its acquisition by a private collector, the cup reappeared alone at an auction in Paris.
On 4 March 1968, the Louvre pre-empted and bought the cup, clearly identifiable as having belonged to the royal collection of hardstone vessels by the number 376 engraved on its mount. It entered the national collections and was added to the magnificent group of hardstone vessels currently on display in the Galerie d’Apollon.

2011 The cameo was identified and put up for sale

Venus and Cupid, attributed to Giovanni Ambrogio Miseroni (1551–1616)
© 2021 Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-GP / Hervé Lewandowski
Venus and Cupid and shell-shaped cup, attributed to Giovanni Ambrogio Miseroni (1551–1616)
© 2021 Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-GP / Hervé Lewandowski

The cameo was only known from descriptions dating from the Ancien Régime. When Daniel Alcouffe published those documents in his catalogue of the royal collection of hardstone vessels (Paris, 2001), the lid was identified by its owner.
In 2011, the work went to auction in London. Ten years later it went on sale again and now, thanks to your generosity, it can be reunited with its cup at last.