of Small Collectors

 versione italiana article # 40




by Fredric Sinfield and Giorgio Busetto
(click on photos to enlarge)


Fredric Sinfield continues his collaboration with l'ASCAS presenting another interesting silverware piece. It is a:

'... a silver cup is 175mm wide across including the handles, 110mm high and weighs 535grams, with naturalistic ivy leaves and seed pods decoration in high relief.
There are two marks under one of the handles, one is the crossed keys and mitre used by the Rome assayers. The other mark is deeply punched and is not easy to read.


silver cup (skyphos)
silver cup: 19th century reproduction from an ancient Roman model
silver cup (skyphos) This is a reproduction of a Greco-Roman cup probably from one of the archaeological finds in Italy and made after 1815 but before 1870.
These reproductions were made as tourist items for those on the grand tour.
(note 1)

silver cup with ivy leaves and seed pods decoration in high relief

silver hallmarks

Papal State hallmark silversmith hallmark
Papal State: hallmark with crossed keys and mitre
hallmark: G??D into a lozenge
Barnards & Sons of London also made similar pieces assayed in 1884 and in "The History of Silver" is a cup with a similar decoration on the foot, now in the museum of Saint Germain en Laye.
How many of these cups were made does not appear to be recorded nor does the maker of this Roman piece.


silver cup (skyphos) : Saint Germain en Laye Museum
silver cup in the Museum of Saint Germain en Laye France (from 'The History of Silver')

There is an association of the decoration with the purpose of the cup as ivy was dedicated to Bacchus, who is often depicted wearing a wreath of ivy and grapevines that were supposed to prevent intoxication.
Untried is the receipe, to overcome the effects of intoxication, being a handful of bruised ivy leaves gently boiled in wine and drunk, an alternative is moderation.
Fred Sinfield



(1) A nobleman in the 18th and 19th century completed his education with a period of European travel: the so-called 'Grand Tour'. By undertaking the Tour, young men learned about the politics, culture, and art of neighboring lands.
The primary destination of the 'Grand Tour' was Italy, with its heritage of ancient Roman monuments.
18th and 19th century taste revered the art and culture of the ancients. The British, in particular, were lured to Italy by their admiration of antiquity and their desire to see firsthand such monuments of ancient civilization as the Colosseum in Rome, and such wonders of nature as the volcanic eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, near Naples, and its archaeological excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Nothwithstanding the cup is a copy of an ancient Roman piece, this is an excellent example of the 19th century silver workmanship.
So, I've tried to obtain a full identification of its hallmarks.
This was my result:

Papal State hallmark Papal State: mitre and crossed keys
mark of small works. purity degree 889/1000, used from 1815 to September 20, 1870
(hallmark # 156: Argenti Italiani dell'Ottocento vol. 1- V.Donaver - R. Dabbene)

The lozenge hallmark with letters and numbers inside is nearly unreadable.
This type of lozenge is a very common mark for Roman silversmiths of the 19th century. Some examples follow:

silversmiths hallmarks: Rome 19th century
G48B Baccani Giovanni - 1839-1844
G140B Boroni Giuseppe - 1797-1830
GI2C - Cellini Giosafat - 1767-1820
G15c Costaggini Giovacchino - 1790 - 1839
G28C Contini Gaetano II - 1821 . 1830
G37C Colein Giuseppe - 1843 - 1846
G46C Croce Giuseppe - 1781 - 1818
G152C Castellacci Girolamo - 1792 - 1816
G77D D'Achille Giovanni - 1819 - 1865
G103D Diotallevi Gregorio - 1815 - 1854 (the number '3' is struck upside down)
G50E Elmi Giuseppe - 1801 - 1834
G155F Ferrari Giuseppe - 1856 - 1860
G57G Grandi Giovanni Battista - 1835 - 1855
G12M Milani Giovanni Battista - 1853 - 1870
G27M Giuseppe Mazzini - 1804 - 1837
G112M Menazzi Girolamo - 1802 - 1835
G132M Miller Giuseppe - 1764 - 1818
G134M Mercandetti Giovanni - 1782 - 1834
GM94P Pelliccioni Giovanni Maria - 1784 - 1820
G43N Nobler Gaspare - 1842 - 1858
G51N Nicolai Giuseppe - 1793 - 1825
G53N Nelli Giuseppe II - 1826 - 1873
G4P Pollini Giuseppe - 1809 - 1862

This list of silversmiths is from Argenti Italiani dell'Ottocento vol. 2- V.Donaver - R. Dabbene, but I believe that the mark of our cup belongs to no one of these silversmiths.

So, I had another question needing a reply: what was in ancient times the name of these cups?

My first idea was that it was a 'kantharos', similar to the cups seen some time ago in the exibition 'Convivium', held in the 'Domus del Triclinium' in Ravenna (Italy).

kantharos with embossed cherubs kantharos with embossed cherubs
kantharos with embossed Nereids and Tritons kantharos with embossed Nereids and Tritons

Museum description of Kantharos

plate in the 'Convivium' exibition
1 silver cup (kantharos) embossed with cherubs - 1st century A.D. - from Pompeii
2 silver cup (kantharos) embossed with Nereids and Tritons - 1st century A.D.

Their look is very similar to Sinfield's cup, nevertheless the handles have a different shape. So I decided to continue my researches.
I remembered buying a book in an antiquarian library 'ANNALI CIVILI DEL REGNO DELLE DUE SICILIE' (Civil Annals of The Regno delle Due Sicilie), printed in Naples in 1836, containing an article titled 'DI QUATTORDICI VASI D'ARGENTO DISSOTTERATI IN POMPEI NEL MDCCCXXXV (1835)'. (About 14 silver vases found in Pompeii in the year 1835)

Annali Civili del Regno delle Due Sicilie - 1835

This article, signed B.*** Q.*** (B. Quaranta), contains the details of the finding and the description of the objects, and in an obsolete Italian language states:

estratto pagina 7
'....I'll call 'Scifi' the four gilded cups with small base and thin handles in the shape of a chalice, notwithstanding the first two have different handles (a).
Usually the 'scifo' is described as a round and tall vase of tapering shape and with 'ears'..... '

(a) The vases with high handles, weighs 24 'ounces of Naples', are 5 1/2 ounces tall at the rim (6 1/2 ounces at the top of the handles) and 5 ounces wide (7 1/2 ounces wide with handles).
The two vases with ivy, weighs 18 1/2 'ounces of Naples', are 5 ounces tall and 8 ounces wide (8 1/2 ounces wide with handles) (note 1).
Our readers will find the images of the two vases with high handles (that I value as the most beautiful) engraved by Giuseppe Marsigli, professor of the Reale Accademia di Belle Arti (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) well known for his excellent representations of antiques.
centaurs and cherubs centaurs and cherubs
kantharos: silver embossed with centaurs and cherubs - Table 1
engraving by Giuseppe Marsigli published on Annali Civici - Naples 1836
kantharos: silver embossed with centaurs and cherubs - Table 2
engraving by Giuseppe Marsigli published on Annali Civici - Naples 1836

Even if the description isn't fully correct (the vases with 'high handles' are two 'kantharos'), the use of the term 'scifi' allowed to find the correct definition ('skyphos') to attribute to the vases...

estratto pagina 11
....similar in height and shape are the two other 'scifi' having a ring on the handles and decorated with realistic ivy embossed all arount their body, so that you may believe that a breath of wind would move their leaves...
estratto pagina 12
The decoration of drinking vessels with a wreath of leaves and flowers was a common pratice (ivy with its berry and leaves was the preferred). Ivy was the decoration of the cup promised by Theocritus to Tirsus and that of the vase of Alcimedon cited by Virgil. It was believed that ivy was an excellent remedy for headache and a magic talisman for drinking excesses.
So that Plutarcus wrote that Bacchus was considered a medicine expert, having taught the use of ivy wreaths to prevent the wine's effects....

The correct definition of Fredric Sinfield's cup is 'skyphos' (scyphus), and, moreover, is embossed with ivy wreaths as the cup found in 1835 in Pompeii.

I've found some other informations about 'kantharos' (cantharus) and 'skyphos' (scyphus) (note 2)

Kantharos (Cantharus)
Bronze, silver
Cup with tapering body or in the shape of a hemisphere, raised up on a high foot, with two slender vertical handles, sometimes surmounting the rim. The body is often decorated with floral motifs or figural scenes. The silver cantharus with Tritons and Nereids from Pompeii (note 3), dating to the 1st century B.C., provided with a single, richly decorated handle, is an example of the flourishing art of embossing in the age of Roman Republic. Similarly dated to the mid of the 1st century B.C. are the canthari from Alesia (decorated with grapevines) and the two later canthari, decorated with olive shoots, from the House of Menandro (with handles of Hellenistic taste, unbound from the rim). The 'canthari' from the House of Menandro are decorated with a rich embossing, the preferred technique for high value objects manufactured in the first part of the Imperial Age.

kantharos. enbossed silver with centaurs and cherubs kantharos. enbossed silver with centaurs and cherubs  
kantharos: embossed silver with Centaurs and Cherubs - eng. by Giuseppe Marsigli
table 1 (detail)
kantharos: embossed silver with Centaurs and Cherubs - eng. by Giuseppe Marsigli
table 2 (detail)
Skyphos (Scyphus)
Bronze, silver
Cup with oval body or in the shape of a hemisphere, with two ring handles along the rim and wide and low foot. Few silver skyphos are known, while there's a great availability of ceramic skyphos. Sometimes they have large measures, like the silver skyphos with mythological scenes from Hoby, measuring 21 cm. of diameter. Often they are decorated with mythological subjects (i.e. episodes of the life of Bacchus on the skyphos from the House of Menandro), with landscapes or with historical subjects (like the two skyphos from the treasury of Boscoreale) (note 4).
skyphos from Boscoreale treasure skyphos from Boscoreale treasure  
skyphos: embossed silver with animals and floral motifs
Treasure of Boscoreale
Louvre Museum
skyphos: embossed silver with plane tree branches
Treasure of Boscoreale
Louvre Museum

I do not know if the unidentified Roman silversmith of the 19th century took his inspiration from the skyphos discovered in Pompeii in 1835 (likely, in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) or from another skyphos in a museum of Rome. Anyway this 19th century reproduction was of great assistance in broadening my knowledge of Roman silversmithing of two thousands years ago.
Giorgio Busetto


(1) the 'oncia napoletana' (ounce of Naples) was a term used to measure both weight and length. Their equivalences are:
weight: 1 ounce = gr. 26.72 - length: 1 ounce = cm. 2.79
The measures of the vases are
vases with high handles
weight gr. 641.2
length (high): at handles cm. 18.1 and cm. 15.3 at the rim
length (wide): at the handle cm. 20.9 and cm. 13.9 at the mouth
vases with ivy leaves
weight gr. 494.3
length: (high): cm. 13.9
length (wide): at the handle cm. 23.7 and cm. 22.3 at the mouth
The measures supplied by B. Quaranta look largely approximate, as these measures are not coherent with those obtained examining the images of the same vases in the engraving of Giuseppe Marsigli.
(2) from: Ministero dei Beni Culturali - Vocabolario settoriale campo OGTD della scheda RA a cura di L.M. Vigna: Contenitori in metallo e leghe metalliche
(3) likely, this is the cup with Nereids and Tritons that I've photographed in the exibition in Ravenna
(4) the 'Treasure of Boscoreale' was discovered in 1895 in a Roman villa of Boscoreale (near Pompeii), buried by the volcanic eruptions of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
The Baron Rothschild donated to the Louvre Museum 109 pieces of silverware of Boscoreale provenance.

Fredric Sinfield
Giorgio Busetto -
English text revision by Jayne Dye
- 2005 -