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South German, probably Augsburg, late 16th or early 17th century, Unicorn drinking cup. Photo Sotheby's

gilt bronze, on a later red veined marble base; bronze: 13.9 by 13.3cm., 5½ by 5¼in.; base: 8.7 by 15.2cm., 3½ by 6in. Estimate 25,000 — 35,000 GBP. Unsold

Note: This gilt-bronze unicorn is transformed into a drinking cup once the detachable head is removed. The large eyes with prominent pupils and the stipled treatment of the pelt are typical characteristics of late 16th and early 17th-century South German bronze representations of animals and evoke the virtuoso work of gold and silversmiths active in Augsburg at this time. An appropriate comparison can be found in a silver-gilt prancing deer with detachable head in the Städtische Kunstsammlungen, Augsburg (inv. no. 12342). The fashion for sculptures of both real and mythical beasts is exemplified by the Fountain of the Animals commissioned by Duke Julius von Braunschweig-Lüneburg in the 1570's (Chipps-Smith, op. cit. pp. 239-9). The present bronze compares particularly closely, both in size and modelling, to a gilt-bronze figure of a stag, sold in these rooms on 10th March 1983, and, more recently, to another, sold in the Collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé sale, Christie's, Paris, 25th February 2009, lot 575.

RELATED LITERATURE: J. Chipps-Smith, German Sculpture of the Later Renaissance c. 1520-1580. Art in an Age of Uncertainty, Princeton NJ, 1994, pp. 237-239; Welt im Umbruch. Augsburg zwischen Renaissance un Barock, exhib. cat. Rathaus, Augsburg, 1980, vol. ii, pp. 417-419, no. 794; E. F. Bange, Die Deutschen Bronzestatuetten des 16. Jahrhunderts, Berlin, 1949, pp. 141-143, nos. 150-155, 157-162

Sotheby's. European Sculpture & Works of Art: Medieval to Modern . London | 03 Jul 2012 - www.sothebys.com