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The Cunha Braga Cup. By Jonathan Horwich, Modern Art Specialist
Knowing that I am a picture specialist, it may come as a surprise that I have chosen this 14 cm long, ceremonial drinking vessel. It is a rock crystal masterpiece of renaissance craftmanship, carving and decoration and is my favourite piece of all time. I am not sure if I know myself why I love it so much – maybe it is because it is so tactile, almost warm to the touch, and just oozes history. It fits neatly in the palm of your hand and is beautifully made – and nearly 400 years before Carl Faberge turns up and makes anything nearly as good.
I first saw the cup in October 2006 on its preview in New York. I was previewing pictures alongside my colleague from the works of art team who was accompanying the cup. My colleague gave me some of the background to its discovery. Amazingly, he spotted it among a bunch of Polaroid shots sent over from Portugal by a client just in case there was anything of interest. Even more remarkable is that the photographs were general room shots of a room full of display cabinets all rammed with various pieces and the cup was spotted tucked in a cabinet full of undistinguished objects. He was on a plane to Lisbon the next day to see it and the rest is history. I remember he told me that at first it was thought to be a copy or later version of a similar cup in a Munich museum. However, once the two were put together side by side in the museum the curators were delighted to discover that our one was made by the same craftsman as theirs – making these two the definitive pieces and ours the only other example in the world available to buy.
It had belonged to Alfredo Baptista Cunha Braga (1869-1932) from Lisbon. He acquired it circa 1920 and then by direct descent to the owners in the auction. The piece was offered in London on 30/11/2006, the pre-sale estimate was £200,000-300,000 but it sold for an astounding £1,968,000