Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
An octagonal amber canister with a silver-gilt screw-on-cap, resting on a moulded silver-gilt base supported by four ball feet; the canister is carved overall with foliage, grotesque masks and panels of allegorical figures representing the Virtues - Faith, Hope, Charity, Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude, Justice and Patience.
Amber occurs in large quantities along the Baltic coasts of Germany and Poland. During the seventeenth century Konigsberg and Danzig were important centres of amber carving. Many pieces were commissioned by the Brandenburg court in Berlin as diplomatic gifts; perhaps the most famous was the amber room presented to Peter the Great of Russia by Frederick the Great of Prussia.
This piece is of a type known in German as 'Schraubflaschen' (screw-top bottle). There are comparable examples in museum collections in Germany. Amber cups and tankards were particularly popular as it was believed that amber had the power to detect poisons. However Schraubflaschen were essentially Kunstkammer display pieces and appear to have had no practical use.
The figures are found on a number of mid-seventeenth century armber tankards, although their source or sources are currently not known. George Schreiber of Konigsberg was responsible for some of the finest vessels, although this piece was probably made by one of his followers around 1660.