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An Extremely Rare Italian late 18th C Bronze Locking Vessel With Latin Inscription, Possibly with Maritime Associations. #3024

An Extremely Italian Rare Bronze Locking Vessel With Latin Inscription, Possibly with Maritime Associations.

Italy circa 1780-1820

This very unusual bronze receptacle that it was designed to be fixed to a surface which we have now sat upon a stone plinth for display purposes. The sides are cast with acanthus swags and other floral decoration with swags of husks joining the two handles, themselves formed from laurel wreaths. The cover is simpler in deocration with an egg and dart moulding and a finely cast acorn finial. There is a Latin inscription in two parts on the body of the piece, the inscription reading Contra biformis fortunae eventus on one side and uniformi constantia integerrime militavit on the other side and also on the base. Depending on how the insciption is combined, the full text reads either "contra biformis fortunae eventus uniformi constantia integerrime militavit" or "uniformi constantia integerrime militavit contra biformis fortunae eventus" and the text is said to be related to the works of the 12th century French theologian Hildebert de Lavardin and the poet Mathieu de Vendome. It also relates closely to a quotation attributed to Pope Gregory I "Qui contra biformis fortunae insultus uniformi constantia mentis militat praemunitus, ut nec in adversis deiciatur nec in prosperis elevetur".

Despite the very European decoration, the form of the piece bears distinct similarities to the upper sections of ancient bronze perfume burners made in China so they may have inspired the present design in some way. The precise purpose of this vessel when first made remains a mystery. It originally had two separate locks, one to each side, though one is now missing. It has been suggested that the vessel could have been used to store important keepsakes or even as a reliquary of some sort but equally there are suggestions that the piece has military or naval significance. One translation of the Latin inscription might be "With uniform constancy he fought with complete integrity against the two-fold events of fortune" which would be a worthy epitaph for a military hero and, according to a previous owner, the piece was used by commanders aboard a ship to store the names of sailors on active duty. The vessel would then be opened and the unlucky men whose names were called would be sent off to fight. Whether there is any truth to this or not, the piece certainly must have had a deep meaning to those who commissioned it. This is certainly not just a piece of decoration.

The piece has a lovely patination with evidence of plenty of handling and use. It is a fascinating object and is sure to be a talking point in any interior

Width: 18 inches - 46cm
Height: 18 inches - 46cm
Depth: 14 inches - 36cm

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