Cup Cover with Venus and Cupid Sleeping on a Shell being observed by Jupiter in the form of a Swan. Attributed to Giovanni Ambrogio Miseroni (1551-1616), Milan, late 16th century. Private Collection

CAMBRIDGE.- Never before seen together in the UK, on 16 August 2011 the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge will be opening an extraordinary exhibition of precious decorative arts – the treasures of the Hapsburg emperors. Now joining this remarkable exhibition is a lost Royal masterpiece by the greatest of all the hardstone engravers of the Renaissance period, Giovanni Ambrogio Miseroni.

Splendour & Power: Imperial Treasures from Vienna displays a glittering selection of beautifully crafted cameos, jewellery, vessels and other objects made from gems, precious metals and hardstones from the renowned Kunstkammer collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. This is the first time that so many pieces from the collection have been loaned to Britain, and this rare opportunity is only possible due to the current refurbishment of the Kunstkammer galleries in Vienna.

Originating in the medieval treasure trove of the House of Hapsburg, the collection was once safeguarded in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna. These objects, almost all of which are unique creations, were designed to demonstrate the incredible wealth, power and glory of the Hapsburg dynasty, and initially only visitors of noble birth - such as princes of neighbouring countries or diplomatic delegations - were granted access.

The lost Royal treasure joining the exhibition, Venus and Cupid Sleeping on a Shell, was created around 1600 from precious agate and set in a silver mount. Sold to a private collector at Sotheby’s London in July 2011, this incredible Renaissance treasure will be reunited with other masterpieces made by the Miseroni workshop for the Royal House of Austria during the Cambridge showing.

Venus and Cupid Sleeping on a Shell is believed to have been created for Emperor Rudolph II in the late 16th century. At an unknown point it left the Imperial collection and ended up in the collection of King Louis XIV of France. Sold on in 1796, it was untraced until very recently when it was rediscovered in a Swiss private collection.

Thanks to the generosity of its new owner following the auction at Sotheby’s, it will be included in the exhibition, reuniting it with other Miseroni masterpieces from the Imperial collection.

The exhibition’s focus is upon artworks from the late Renaissance and Mannerist periods - the heyday of treasuries and ‘cabinets of curiosities’ - as well as from the Baroque. Many of the works on display belonged to Emperor Rudolph II – Holy Roman Emperor (1576-1612) - and Empress Maria Theresa, the only female Hapsburg ruler and the last of the House.

Giving a rare glimpse into the opulent world of the Hapsburg emperors, the exhibition features:

• exquisite jewellery, from necklaces, pendants and lockets to rings and enseignes, complemented by pre-eminent examples of medieval and Renaissance jewellery

• intricate portrait cameos, many bearing the likenesses of the Hapsburg sovereigns crafted in the style of ancient Roman imperial portraits

• ornate goldwork, vessels and coffers, including a bowl featuring embedded Roman coins, and a serpentine tankard

• stonework, carving and sculpture, with precious objects crafted from agate, jasper, rock-crystal and lapis lazuli, including a cup made from rhinoceros horn and a Chinese jade bowl

• a 15th century enamel model of the Annunication from the Fitzwilliam’s own collection. Once kept in the Imperial Treasury, it is now reunited with these other Hapsburg treasures for the first time since the 1860s.

Dr Timothy Potts, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, said: “The Fitzwilliam is delighted to welcome this superb collection to Cambridge for its first and only UK showing. Widely regarded as the most important collection of its kind anywhere in the world, the Vienna Kunstkammer provides a fascinating insight into how European princely collections have evolved, from medieval troves of relics to the ‘cabinets of curiosities’ of the Renaissance and early Baroque, eventually giving birth to the modern-day museum.”


Gold ewer from the toilette set for Emperor Franz I, c. 1750. © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


Casket of gold filigree and diamonds Goa (India), mid 17th century; late 17th or first third of the 18th century (diamond setting).