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Object ID #18170111

This is a Drawing. We acquired it in 1912. Its medium is pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, black chalk on off-white laid paper. It is a part of the Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design department.

This enigmatic design by Giulio Romano of a boat shaped vessel flanked by siren-topped columns has been interpreted variously as being a salt cellar, a festival float and a cradle. The difficulty in identifying the design’s purpose stems from Romano’s prolific production at Federico II Gonzaga’s ducal court at Mantua. His work ranged from architecture and stage sets to metalwork and tapestries. This ink and chalk design is clear enough to be interpreted by various media, including metalwork and carved wood. The vessel is in the shape of a ship supported by two mermaids who float upon a base representing the sea. Aquatic themes were frequently incorporated into salt cellars, referencing the valuable mineral’s watery origins. The double-tailed mermaid is associated with the Emperor Charles V, suggesting the design could have been made as part of the decorations for a banquet given by the Gonzagas in honor of the emperor in 1530. The identification of object as a dynastic cradle to celebrate the birth of an heir would suggest it was made for the enfant Francesco III Gonzaga, born in 1533. The tradition of publicly presenting an heir within an ornate cradle and under a textile canopy was practiced by prominent families throughout Italy.

This object was featured in our Object of the Day series in a post titled An Ornate Boat with a Mysterious Purpose.

  • Dado (France), ca. 1810
  • block-printed on handmade paper.
  • Gift of John Judkyn in memory of his mother, Florence Judkins.
  • 1953-213-1-a,b

Our curators have highlighted 3 objects that are related to this one.

  • Object ID #18422087
  • pen and brown ink, brown wash on off-white laid paper hinged to thick laid paper.
  • 1958-143-14

Cite this object as

Object ID #18170111; Previously owned by Jean Léon Decloux (French, 1840–1929); Italy; pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, black chalk on off-white laid paper; 1911-28-169

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibitions Hewitt Sisters Collect and The Cooper-Hewitt Collections: A Design Resource.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Object ID #18170111 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=17 January 2019 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>