Attributed to the Saracchi Workshop, Italian, Milan, late 16th century, Zibellino in the form of a marten head mounted as a snuff box. Photo courtesy Sotheby's

rock crystal, inlaid with red garnets, with an 18th-/ 19th-century rock crystal lid with gold mounts; 4.7 by 8.2cm., 1 7/8 by 3¼in. Estimation 10,000 — 15,000 GBP

Provenance: Oskar Dieter Alex von Rosenberg-Rédé, 3rd Baron von Rosenberg-Redé (1922-2004) or Guy Édouard Alphonse Paul de Rothschild, Baron de Rothschild (1908-2007), Hôtel Lambert or Château de Ferrières, Paris
their sale, Sotheby's Monaco, 25 May 1975, lot 26
thence by descent to the present owner

And I will also make small things such as pendants, pine cones, acorns, belts, marten's head, aglets and other things like the samples I sent you.

List of rock crystal objects mentioned in a letter from the Saracchi brothers to Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria (Distelberger, op. cit., p. 162).

This superb rock crystal marten's head comes from a Renaissance zibellino. It would have been attached to the end of a marten's pelt, whilst its mouth would have been fitted to a gold chain, which, in turn, would have connected the zibellino to the wearer's belt. These curious Renaissance objects were worn by women as talismans for fertility. They were popularised by Eleonor of Toledo, and remained fashionable through the 16th century.

The virtuoso carving of the rock crystal indicates that it was carved by an important lapidary. The fantastical styling, inset red agate eyes and upturned nose compare closely with creatures adorning rock crystal vessels created by the celebrated Milanese 16th-century Saracchi workshop; compare with the bird-shaped bowl in the Museo degli Argenti, Florence (inv. no. 1921 no. 721), the body of which is similarly adorned with elaborate vegetal motifs. Note the swirling wave pattern, which is similar to the fur on the present object, on a table fountain also from the Medici collections (inv. no. 1917 (III) no. 1). Another vessel in the form of an owl with agate-set eyes is in the Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden (inv. no. V295). The attribution to the Saracchi is given added credence by the compelling reference to a rock crystal marten's head in a letter from the workshop to Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria (quoted above).

There is a near-identical rock crystal zibellino head by the Saracchi workshop in the Farnese collection, Museo e Gallerie Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples (Cassani, op. cit., no. 6.76). Another rock crystal marten's head, thought to be French, circa 1560-70, is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection (Somers Cocks and Truman, op. cit., no. 3).

RELATED LITERATURE: R. Distelberger, 'Die Sarachi-Werkstatt und Annibale Fontana, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen, LXXI, 1975, p. 162; A. Somers Cocks and C. Truman, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Renaissance jewels, gold boxes and objets de vertu, London, 1984, pp. 70-71, no. 3; A. Massinelli and F. Tuena, Treasures of the Medici, London, 1992, pp. 80, 88-89, 94-102; S. Cassani (ed.), La Collezione Farnese. Le arti decorative, cat. Museo e Gallerie Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, 1996, pp. 179-180, no. 6.76; M. Mosco and O. Casazza, The Museo degli Argenti Collections and Collectors, Florence, 2004, pp. 64-80

Sotheby's. European Sculpture & Works of Art. London | 04 déc. 2013, 11:00 AM -www.sothebys.com