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A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever – The Miseroni Lapidaries – Part 3

The stoner carver dynasty from Milan

6. The Miseroni Family in Milan

The roots of the Miseroni Family can be traced back until 1460 or the times of Francesco Sforza when Francesco Miseroni, sporting a monkey as a hallmark, was listed as member of the guild of the goldsmiths of Milan. The shops of the goldsmiths were concentrated on two roads close to the Duomo (formerly San Tecla) in the parish of San Michele al Gallo and not far away from the houses and palaces of their main customers. The road is still known today as via dei Orefici and close-by one could find the roads with shops of the sword smiths, armour makers, and silver beaters.

The guild named their meeting and training place the Università degli Orefici and included gem carvers and cameo cutters as members. In 1311 the guild placed itself officially under the protection of S.Eligio, the patron saint of the goldsmiths and counted between 67 to 147 members until 1630, when their number crashed, like in many other professions due to the plague epidemic.

The guild of the goldsmiths was much respected in Milan and had their members sitting next to representatives of the church as assistants to judges in public trials. Next to regulating their trade with very detailed sets of regulations, the corporation acted also as a bank for their members, helping them to finance the purchase precious raw material or giving loans to members in financial difficulties. Such a case is documented in 1603 when one of their members, Giovanni Battista Cittadino, a poor goldsmith, a God fearing man, an honorable person, with little income but with a large number of children… was awarded 185 Lire (about 25 Scudi in gold) so that his nineteen year old daughter Felicia could have an appropriate dowry to marry a certain Geronimo Canobio, and considered …to be a good party.

The guild was governed by one abate (abbot), three consoli (consuls) and one canevario, the administrator of the finances of the guild. In 1468 the government of the guild was expanded to incorporate also a college of sindaci. Each term of office started on the 25th of November, the day of S. Catherina, and lasted only one year with re-election possible only after a four year grace period. In order to become abate it was necessary to have been previously console and canevario. Francesco Miseroni has been console in 1468 and in 1475 and abate in 1480 and 1488. His son Ambrogio Matteo, father of Girolamo and Gasparo, has been canevaro in the year 1500 and 1507.

The task of the abate, the highest authority of the guild, was to make sure that no thefts occurred, that stolen jewels and gold were not accepted or resold, that persons making fake jewels were fined and that suspicious merchandize was confiscated. The purity of gold was fixed to 14 carats (60% gold) and it was forbidden to coat any part in beaten copper with silver or gold. The guild also was the keeper of contracts, written in Latin, regulating ad hoc business deals and arrangements between individual guild members

The quality of the work of the guild member was assured by a strict control of it before any sale and poor work was destroyed with an official mace on a wooden stump. Milan has been in the 14th century an important place to make fake jewels and so important was this activity that also the work of making contrafacte gems was governed by an association. One of the principal ways to counterfeit gems in those times was to make doublets or using a thin polished or facetted section of a real gem glued onto a base of glass or crystal, thus simulating a much larger and more valuable gem. The guild imposed the rule that before any setting of a gem in a ring or other support, the gem was to be shown to the customer and that no ring was to be made if not for a defined gem. After 1450 the guild introduced individual hallmarks identifying the maker of the jewels.

As we have seen above, the Duke Cosimo I of Florence did not hesitate to order large numbers of fake jewellery and pearls from Gasparo Miseroni and the latter obligingly complied in making them.

Foreign jewellers, many of them from the Flanders, which was another centre of European goldsmith activity, were readily accepted in the guild provided that they had practised for eight consecutive years and paid the same dues as their Milanese counterparts.

The goldsmith and gem carver workshops were mostly located on the ground floor of a four to five room house in which the extended family of the master with their attendants lived. The workshops were open toward the road so that their activity and work in progress would entice future customers. Sometimes rich goldsmiths had houses in more fashionable neighbourhoods where they received their more illustrious customers.

As in 1567, following decisions taken at the Papal Council in Trento, the census of the inhabitants in each parish, the Stati d’Anime or the number of souls was decreed, we have a very good record where which persons lived in Milan from 1567 till 1655.


A map of Milan, the ancient Mediolanum, from about 1580, with Porta Comasina in the city wall at one o’clock. The large square building at three o’clock is the Lazaretto near Porta Orientale where the victims of the plague and other epidemics where treated


The 1572 Braun und Hogenberg map with 1) the Castello Sforzesco, 2) the Outer Porta Comasina, 3) the Inner Porta Comasina, 4) the Parish and Church of San Tommaso di TerraMara, 5) the Parish and Church of San Michele al Gallo, (6) the Porta Vercellina, 7) the Duomo with nearby Via degli Orefici or goldsmith road and 8) San Eustrogio and the Porta Ticinese


The detailed view of the inner Porta Comasina and the parish of San Tommaso di TerraMara on the 1572 map and the 1752 cadastre or register of the real property of the Porta Comasina jurisdiction, the neighbourhood where the Miseroni had their workshops and living quarters. The quarters took all their origin in the center of Milan and radiated toward a city gate


The aerial view of what was then the medieval heart of Milan with the Castello Sforzesco, the demolished Porta Comasina, San Tommaso in TerraMara and the demolished San Michele al Gallo, the churches of the parishes where the Miseroni had their houses, Via dei Orafi, the street of the goldsmiths


The parish church of the Miseroni, San Tommaso in TerraMara in Via Broleto in Milan today


The genealogy of the males of the Miseroni's from Francesco to Ferdinand Eusebio with marked in grey those members not involved in goldsmith and lapidary activities

The “International” reputation of the Miseroni workshops started with Gasparo Miseroni, the son of Ambrogio Matteo and grandson of Francesco.

Gasparo’s father Ambrogio was married to Lucia Longhi de Leucho, a young lady from an established Milanese goldsmith family. Gasparo had four brothers and four sisters and was only seven when his father died in 1525 at the age of 45. This was a year of the "Plague of Karl V in Milan" which, from 1524 to 1529, caused about 22,000 deaths. Two of his brothers, aged 6 and 21 died in 1526 and one of his sisters Francesca Mattea, died in 1524 at the age of 24. It is unknown if they were victims of the black plague or other concurrent epidemic.

The physical persistence of the Miseroni workshop was assured by their mother Lucia which had enlisted the help of her father Bernardo and Uncle Andrea Longhi to teach her two surviving sons the secrets of the art. The curriculum to become an independent jeweller or goldsmith is laid down in the statutes of the Università degli Orefici and, involved 8 years of learning and practical work. The two brothers were working at the same location but acquiring and completing their work in independent matter. The brothers married skillfully the goldsmith and jewellery expertise they had acquired from their teachers with the burgeoning art of carving of objects of art in rock crystal and other precious and semiprecious stones.

The independency of Gasparo and Girolamo as head of the workshops is documented by their respective hiring of a certain Camillo Vigoni respectively in 1541 and 1546 for crystal cutting. These dates correspond to their 23 and 24th birthday and could indicate that they have finished their 8 years of apprenticeship and could now work and hire in an independent way.


Pope Paolo III (1468-1549), Catherina de Medici (1519-1589) , Queen of France and Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I (1503-1564), some of the illustrious customers of Gasparo Miseroni

One of the first documented customers of Gasparo has been Pope Paolo III, born Alessandro Farnese and educated at the Court of Cosimo il Grande in Florence. The Libro della Tesorieria Segreta del Papa, the book of the secret treasury of the Pope, mentions several times Gasparo receiving payments. On May 14th 1542 a payment has been made for drilling a hole in a pear-shaped pearl given to the Pope, on the 3rd of July for setting a ruby, an emerald, and a diamond taken from the foot of the chalice in Prasem; on October 18th of 1543 for the setting of a smeraldo bello, a nice emerald. On May 8 1546 a payment was made to Gasparo for the dismounting, cleaning and mounting again of a sapphire in the ring given by the Pope to of the Cardinal of Naples.

Another documented customer in Rome has been the Cloister of S. Maria Ordinis Montis Oliveti in Rome, a subsidiary cloister of the first one founded in 1313 south of Siena. The congregation is part of the Benedictine order and the monks carry the designation of Monaci Benedettini di Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto . Girolamo send there, in 1550, a large vessel in rock crystal for the important sum of 800 scudi in gold which is equivalent to 2.8Kg of pure gold.

Gasparo cultivated his customers and in June 1559 sent, through the Bishop of Trento, to Emperor Ferdinand I, Grandfather of Rudolf II, as gift for his one of his daughters, a young lady's crown with Bohemian Garnets having already made five others for the other daughters. The emperor had nine daughters and evidently Gasparo was hoping for further orders.


The abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore with the church S. Francesca Romana, formerly S. Maria Nova, at few paces from the Coliseum. The abbey was one of Girolamo’s customers in Rome and the vessel ordered was probably a gift for a Pope. On the medieval map to the right, the church is still called S. Maria Nova located at six o’clock

Gasparo had as further illustrious customers the Medici’s in Florence, the Gonzaga in Mantova, Emperor Maximilian II and Rudolf II in Vienna and Prague, Catharina de Medici in France and Pope Paul IV. He also made also in 1565 a sojourn in Bavaria at the Court of Albrecht V which was also assembling a magnificent art collection. This is evident from the correspondence of the Medici’s when the Florentines had to switch a little reluctantly to his brother Girolamo to complete some orders.

One of the characteristic forms of cups carved by Gasparo and then also by Girolamo is the so called shell cup. In these cups, in many variations, a marine monster is sitting at the beak of the shell and envelops the shell with his finned legs. Such examples are the simple and elegant stemmed cup made probably for Cosimo I and the very elaborate dragon cup made for Rudolf II, both carved from Lapis lazuli.


Two examples of Gasparo’s shell cups with a marine monster sitting at the beak of the shell and enveloping the shell with his finned legs. The left one came to the Württembergisches Museum in Stuttgart/Germany through the Duchess Barbara Sophia von Brandenburg and the right one from Rudolf’s II Kunstkammer in Prague to the KHM in Vienna


Simple small shell shaped cup, 15cm long in light brown chalcedony from Gasparo’s workshop, recorded in the 1750 Habsburg inventory and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna


Basin with handle with 24cm diameter in lapis lazuli from Gasparo’s workshop, recorded in Emperor Rudolf II inventory of 1607-1611 and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna


Cup with cover of 16cm diameter in prasem, a greenish quartz, with enameled gold and jewel decoration by Gasparo and with cameos in agate possibly from Girolamo’s workshop recorded in Emperor Rudolf II inventory of 1607-1611 and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna


Flat stemmed cup in rock crystal, 13cm high from Gasparos’s workshop and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

From the Stati d’Anime census, we know that Gasparo and Girolamo Miseroni lived, from 1554 till 1557 in a house in the Parish of San Michele al Gallo with their wives and the two sons of Girolamo.

In 1582 the Milanese gem cutter and cameo carver, Jacopo da Trezzo, had called Girolamo’s son Giuglio to assist him in the manufacturing decorative elements for Felipe II of Spain which was building the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial south of Madrid. The building part palace, part monastery, part museum and library has subsequently become and enormous store of art, including masterworks by Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco, Velázquez, Roger van der Weyden, Paolo Veronese, Alonso Cano, José de Ribera, Claudio Coello and others. Girolamo was also in 1584 for a short period in Madrid.


A cameo made by Jacopo da Trezzo showing Lucretia, a Roman woman much admired for her virtue and beauty, in despair plunges a knife into her breast....being unable to bear the dishonor inflicted on her by Tarquinii. Jacopo da Trezzo who left Milan in 1555 in order to work at the Court of Felipe II of Spain (1527-1598), showed a masterly skill in using the natural colours of the agate. On a bluish background a reddish layer forms the flesh of the body. A thin white layer covers the body with a draped gown. Jan Vermeyen, the creator of the Crown of Rudolph II executed the precious setting about 1602. This cameo is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

From the workshop of Girolamo Miseroni we have also examples of stemmed cups in jade! The form of these cups evolved from a geometrically simple one into one where more free flowing shapes with added sea monsters and increased decorative elements in gold and enamel appeared.


A geometrically simple stemmed cup in light brown chalcedony (14cm high, 13cm long and 11cm wide), coming from the workshop of Girolamo with enamelled gold mounting set with pearls and emeralds. The cup is made in separate three pieces, the eight lobed cup, the stem and the foot which are held together with gold mounting. The cup is dated to approximately 1570 and comes from collection of the uncle of Rudolf II, Archduke Ferdinand II of Tirol (1529-1595) in the Ambras Castle in which inventory it was listed in 1596. The cup is now in the KHM in Vienna


Stemmed cup in the form of a shell (15cm high, 18cm long and 13cm wide) with a dog faced mythic animal clasping it with frog legs and holding a sphere in his human hands made in white jade (?, bowl) and green jade (stem and foot) coming most likely from the workshop of Girolamo with partially enamelled gold mounting set with rubies. The cup was in the possession of Count Leopold Eberhard of Württemberg (1670-1723), Prince of Montbéliard in 1699 (the coin shows his effigy) and now in the Württembergisches Landesmuseum in Stuttgart, Germany. The attribute “of (white) jade” of the cup, by the Museum, is uncertain whereas the foot and stem are likely to be in greenish jade as the typical fracture aspect of jade in the stem reveals


Stemmed cup in the form of a shell with a maskaron (grimacing face) sitting at the shell hinge and holding the cup with fanged hands (19cm high, 23cm long and 14cm wide) in olive green jade from Girolamo’s workshop and probably from Rudolf II collection now in the KHM in Vienna. The partially enameled mounting is set with rubies and identical to that of the “white” jade cup above


Low Stemmed cup in the form of a shell with a maskaron (grimacing face) sitting at the shell hinge (11cm high, 22cm long and 20cm wide) in a white gray jade from Girolamo’s workshop but possibly made by Giovanni Ambrogio and from Rudolf II collection now in the KHM in Vienna. The partially enameled mounting of the foot is set with rubies and identical to that of the two jade cups above. The two handles are fixed at one point only and have a spring like action

In 1586 the sixty-year-old Girolamo Miseroni had his residence in the parish of S. Tommaso in TerraMara, where he owned three houses. He lived in one of them with his second wife Isabella Borsani, their ten sons and five daughters: Giovanni Antonio (30), Pomponio (25), Giulio (24), Aurelio (20), Horatio (19) Ottavio (17), Vittoria (15), Cesare (14), Alessandro (13), Laura (12), Aurelia (10), Giulia (9), Elena (7) as also with son Giovanni Ambrogio (34) from his first marriage with Prudentia Rossi, together with his wife Ippolita de Vighi and their son Annibale and Gaspare, three servants and two children Prudenza and Giovanni Andrea di Bonicorsi, aged 15 and 10 respectively and possibly apprentices. It can be assumed that all these 25 persons were more or less involved in the goldsmith and gem carving activity. Gasparo Miseroni died childless in 1573.

In 1587 Count Claudio Trivulzio introduced, with the famous carved ruby, the work of the Miseroni to Rudolf II in Prague. This had as consequence that Ottavio was invited to Prague. Count Claudio Trivulzio had been Head of Rudolf II Horses stables from 1576 till his death in 1591 and was frequently in Madrid, probably to purchase horses. He is also mentioned in the Medici Archive files as having suffered badly in February 1588 in Madrid from a bladder stone and that Pietro de Cosimo I de Medici, ambassador of Florence in Spain, asked Duke Ferdinando I of de Medici to send a surgeon. He suggests that they send a specialist in castration (!) as such a person has the best experience to operate in the bladder area and that in Spain none with such expertise is to be found. Maestro Archangelo, the surgeon, successfully performed the operation a few weeks later and as gratitude Count Trivulzio sent in March 1588 two foals to Ferdinando I in Florence.

The census of 1590 revealed that four additional grandchildren, from the family of Giovanni Ambrogio, Giovanni Antonio (4), Christiano (3), Bianca (2) and Giovanni Battista (4 months) lived now in the house of the San Tommaso parish. Girolamo Miseroni died on January 1st of the year 1600.

In 1610 the same household was now very much smaller with only Girolamo’s second wife Isabella (66) and his son Aurelio (47), which had returned from Prague, living there together with two servants . It is possible that Giovanni Ambrogio’s family had relocated to Prague as he is mentioned to be there in 1608.

In 1631 and in the final months of the Great Plague, only Giovanni Battista (30), the youngest son of Giovanni Ambrogio was living and in 1633 no more trace is found of the Miseroni family in the registers of San Tommaso di TerraMara. Of the Miseroni goldsmiths and gem carvers who immigrated to Prague, only Alessandro and the children of Ottavio, who died in 1624, survived.

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