As one of the most prominent silversmiths working in Austria in the second half of the 19th century, Ratzersdorfer’s objets de vertu exude with unmistakable identity the prevailing “Ringstrasse” taste of the growing bourgeoisie. He was the leading producer, along with Böhm, of carved hardstones - rock crystal, agate, lapis lazuli - mounted in silver with champlevé or painted enamel decoration, all in the Renaissance revival style. He sought inspiration in the 16th thru 18th century objects made for princely families of Europe, many of which were then becoming increasingly available to the public through newly founded museums. Ratzersdorfer himself had first hand knowledge of the earlier pieces and their construction after examining them in the Imperial collections. It has been suggested that the renewed interest during this period in creating luxury objects - by either making replicas of existing objects or simply making new forms in earlier styles - was due to the unification of Germany in 1871, when Hungarian mines had become available for excavation thus making the materials more widely available to craftsman.
Ratzersdorfer entered his hallmark in 1843, and continued in business at different addresses atleast until 1900. He participated in several international exhibitions, including London (1851), Paris (1855), Vienna (1873) and Paris (1878 & 1889). He earned medals in 1851 for a silver toilet glass and again in 1855 for a jeweled silver and enamel box. At the 1873 Vienna Exhibition he made an impressive display, winning admiration of atleast one French critic who commented: “une collection très-belle d’imitations de bijoux anciens, des coupes, des coffrets...., des peintures sur email très-fines, imitant la belle epoque de la Renaissance allemande.”
In the 1870’s and 1880’s Ratzersdorfer collaborated with the Viennese glassmaking firm, Lobmeyr, executing mounts for their Renaissance-inspired objects after designs by Josef Storck (see cat. no. 23), Valentin Teirich and Hermann Herdtle. Ratzersdorfer supplied his high quality silver mounts for the “Imperial Service”, commissioned by the Emperor in 1869, and then again in 1881 for a series of vessels made for the wedding of Crown Prince Rudolf. The objects for both services were inspired by the collections in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, founded in 1864, as well as the Imperial Treasury which housed premier examples of Italian and Bohemian rock crystal objects from the 16th and 17th centuries. Leading designers and craftsman working for both Lobmeyr and Ratzersdorfer (many of whom have not been documented) were officially encouraged by the Emperor to utilize these collections as primary sources for their designs.1
According to Erika Speel, who featured an article on the Viennese school of enamelling in April 2006 Ratzersdorfer “set a high standard for the design of grand objects in the Renaissance revival manner...[and] was acclaimed for the ingenuity of such articles”.2 His works are in the collections of the Württembergisches Landesmuseum in Stuttgart and the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin.
The design of this ewer is based on the engraved design from Kraterographie of 1551, attributed to Matthias Zündt of Nuremberg,3. Raztersdorfer exhibited a nearly identical version of this model at the Vienna International Exhibition of 1873 and is illustrated by Neuwirth.4
1 Peter Noever, Ed., J. & L. Lobmeyr, Between Tradition and Innovation, Glassware from the Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Prestel Books, 2006.
2 Erika Speel, Viennese Enamels in the Renaissance Revival Style, The Magazine Antiques, April 2006, Vol. CLXIX, No. 4.
3 J.F. Hayward, Virtuoso Goldsmiths 1540-1620, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 1976, pl. 134, fig. 21.
4 Waltraud Neuwirth, Wiener Gold und Silverschmiede und ihre Punzen 1867-1922, Vol. II.
Erika Speel, Painted Enamels, An Illustrated Survey 1500-1920, Lund Humphries, 2008.
Claude Blair, ed. The History of Silver, Ballantine Books, 1987. Howard Ricketts, Antique Gold and Enamelware in Color, 1971.
Meinrad Maria Grewenig, et.al., Macht & Pracht, Europas Glanz im 19. Jahrhundert, 2006, Edition Völklinger Hütte im Springpunkt Verlag.