A fascinating example of how a work of art might be 'assembled' from pieces made at different times in different places, this richly embellished cup has a colourful history which throws light on how works entered the Esterházy family treasury.
Worthy of greatest attention are the enamelled animals attached to the surface of the cup, which they predate by several decades. Once part of a large collar (i.e. a chain made up of large figurative or ornamental links) these five of what were originally eight pieces have been attributed to one of the most prominent masters working at the court of Rudolf II in Prague, Brussels-born Jan Vermeyen (Dr R. Distelberger in Prag um 1600 1988).
Entry no. 890 in the inventory of the goods of Matthias II of Hungary (Emperor Matthias I of the Holy Roman Empire), compiled after his death in 1619, seems to be the sole written reference to the collar. It records "Halsband von Gold mit achterlei Tieren" (a collar of gold with eight animals). Since this collar does not reappear either in written sources or in material relating to the Viennese Schatzkammer, Distelberger suggested that its dominant motifs should be identified with the eight animal figures painted with enamel en ronde-bosse, i.e. with opaque enamel covering figures modelled in the round, used (probably in 1638) to adorn this cup. Until 1945 there were indeed eight animal jewels on the cup.
Such a transformation, the dismantling of one precious object and the application of its parts to a newly made cup, was undoubtedly wrought on behalf of the imperial court in Vienna in connection with some important event. It seems most probable that it was done by Count Johann Franz Trautson (1606-1663), who represented Ferdinand III at the marriage of István Esterházy, son of the Hungarian Palatine Miklós Esterházy, to Erzsébet Thurzó on 26 September 1638. This was celebrated at the Palatine's castle at Kismarton and it is presumed that Trautson presented the ornamental cup to the young couple as a gift from the ruler; certainly the cup appears in its present composite form in inventories of the Fraknó treasury from the second half of the seventeenth century. Such a hypothesis finds support in the inclusion amongst the jewels of two intaglios featuring seventeenth-century versions of the Trautson family armorials (known from contemporary engravings).
In Classical Antiquity, authors sometimes connected the frog or toad with symbols of fertility and loving harmony, an idea which seems to have survived in certain scholarly and intellectual circles until the seventeenth century. This may perhaps explain the putto riding a toad on the foot, as it would be quite in keeping with the cup's purpose as a wedding gift.
Some of the jewels perished or were seriously damaged in 1945 and were replaced during restoration in the 1960s.