Suetonius Twelve Caesars is perhaps best known these days as the source for Robert Graves I, Claudius. His gossipy tales of the foibles and extravagances of the Roman emperors meeting modern tastes quite easily with only a few changes needed to the more outré episodes. Yet Suetonius has been a popular author since the Renaissance inspiring several pieces of classical reception.
The ‘Aldobrandini Tazze’ are such items: twelve silver plates depicting each of the first twelve Caesars. They were likely made in sixteenth century Southern Netherlands and are similar to other plates made in this area. Very few silver ware survives from this period. It has been suggested that they were made for the Hapsburg family as a way to highlight their imperial pretensions.
A tazza is a food platter whose shape was inspired by ancient objects. It is unlikely that the Aldobrandini Tazze were ever used to hold food, but they may have been placed on a table as beautiful objects.
The Aldobrandini Tazze are essentially a plate, raised by an small stand and topped by a statuette. The plate surface is divided into four separate images showing scenes from Suetonius, topped by a small statuette of the Caesar in question. These images are often very detailed and it can be hard to pick out detailing.
The plates have received a chequered history. Bits of different plates have been removed (for transit and storage) and were put together differently. This meant that states were added to the wrong plates. In later years, the plates were sold separately to individual collectors meaning that statuettes and plates are still mismatched. The exhibition in Wadesson manor is one of the few chances to see all the plates together and correctly paired.
The tazze were gilded in the nineteenth century. Another sign of their chequered history is that some of the plates have different legs.
Suetonius and the silver caesars
Unlike Robert Graves, the Aldobrandini Tazze depict the more exemplary events from Suetonius. The more nefarious events are not depicted.
Domitian in his father’s sack of Jerusalem. Notice the Menorah on the right.
Although it is in Aylesbury, Waddeson Manor is quite easy to get to by train from London. (Just don’t miss the shuttle bus).
The actual Silver Caesars exhibition is at the end of house tour (and you have to follow the strict order of rooms or else). Although National Trust properties are not to everyone’s taste, the Rothschild’s weekend getaway, is a splendid building. The rooms are full of ornate furnishings, rich wallpapers and several items from various collections. As a result, the Aldobrandini Tazze are placed in the context of wealthy nineteenth collectors. Something is added to the silver caesars by exhibiting them here.
Waddeson Manor exhibited some very good UX, however the plates are quite detailed and hard to see in normal light. (They need shadow to bring out some details). They are also placed at table level of around 90cm, meaning it might be hard for some people to see the plates. However, the captions were good and supplementary materials like videos were used. The guides were also on hand to help with information or point out details people may have missed.
All rooms and levels of the house is accessible to everyone. There is also a smaller shuttle service to take people around the grounds. The house contains a restaurant which serves a good creme tea, however I did not recieve as much cream as I am used to (and I noticed older people getting more) and as such the overall score must be knocked down.