Zick workshop, ivory covered cup with a pierced globe

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Germany, Nuremberg
Second half 17th century
ivory, iron
Zick workshop
49 cm

B. Gundestrup, Det kongelige danske kunstkammer 1737, Copenhagen, 1991, pp. 261-262, cat. no. 23.89.
E. v. Philippovich, Elfenbein, Munich, 1982, p. 420, fig. 370 and p. 426, fig. 378.
K. Maurice, Sovereigns as Turners, Zurich, 1985.
A. Vanautgaerden (ed.), Anatomie des Vanités, Brussel, 2008, pp. 86, 88.


Exhibited: 'Anatomie des Vanités', Brussels, Musée de la Maison d'Erasme, 2008.

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This extraordinary ivory-turned cup with a pierced globe is attributed to the Zick workshop. The stem has the distinct form of a Turk, used by the Zick family. The turned cover of the cup has a delicate stem with a concentric sphere with turned rays issuing from the circular apertures, an extremely difficult form to achieve. The turning of the cup and cover required not only a steady hand but also an intellectual approach to the design of the piece and a perfectly calibrated lathe.

A related turned cup supported by a stem in the form of a Turk, attributed to the Zick Workshop, is in the Danish Royal Kunstkammer Copenhagen (Gundestrup, p. 265, no. 23/89) and two ivory handles for utensils, also in this distinctive form, are in the Historisches Museum, Frankfurt am Main (Philippovich, p. 370) also by the Zick family.

The Zick family originated from Nuremberg, where during the late 16th until the 18th century members of the Zick family worked as highly skilled and famous ivory turners. Probably the dynasty started with Peter Zick I (1571-1629), who was known for his ivory drinking vessels. The tradition was continued by his son Lorenz Zick (1594-1666) and grandson Stephan Zick (1639-1715). Peter Zick was the teacher of Emperor Rudolph II in Prague and Lorenz Zick, the son of the turner Peter Zick, was called to Vienna in 1642 - 1644 to instruct Emperor Ferdinand II. The family's activities made Nuremberg, beside Regensburg and Dresden, one of Germany's most important centres for the manufacture of ivory works of art.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, turning was a distinguished hobby, practised by European nobility, princes, and kings. The turning of ivory, using a mechanically powered lathe, was seen as an appropriate and virtuous pastime, in which the practitioner was trained in precision and concentration, and at the same time created fascinating objects which often served as (diplomatic) gifts or were part of a cabinet of curiosities. These beautiful, virtuosic objects often had fabled abstract forms and were considered the showpieces of a kunstkammer collection. The possession of such pieces was not only a testament to one's wealth and intellect, but also to one's power, as the manipulation of natural elements meant that nature could be categorised and shaped by man. Craftsmen specializing in turning acted as teachers for the nobility, often staying at court. The turning was done mechanically with a lathe: a piece of ivory was fixed in the lathe, which could make the object move in two or three directions at the same time. The maker took a sharp object and held it to the rotating ivory. The diferent movements and directions of the mechanism allowed the maker to shape the object as desired. The craftsmanship of the maker, and in particular his or her geometrical and spatial insight, steady hand and precision, determined the complexity and sophistication of the final object. The mechanism of the lathe, which can be adjusted, makes these exceptional turned objects the first examples of ‘machine-generated art’.



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