The Tazza

A Wineglass of Distinction

Tazza (plural Tazze) is Italian for cup. In this particular instance "tazza" is used to describe a style of drinking glass that has a shallow bowl on a foot or pedestal[1].

The dates of surviving examples clearly show these goblets were in use from early on during Elizabeth's reign, which combined with their presence in Elizabethan images proves their use in English society during the mid to late sixteenth century. These "goblets with cigar-shaped stems were among the most popular drinking glasses in early 17th-century England "[2] indicating that the popularity of tazze grew towards the end of the SCA period.

This style of pedestal dish was used in England drinking red wine, and on occasion for serving sweetmeats [3]. Indeed, they can be seen in use as wine glasses in period images. For example, a gentleman is depicted filling a tazza from a decanter in the foreground of "Elizabeth I at a picnic in a forest". This famous woodcut from page 90 of George Turbervile's 1570 "The booke of Hunting" (British Library, record number c2050-10), shows the tazza in use in the highest echelons of English society during the Elizabethan period.

It is worth remembering that our perception is very probably skewed by the non-survival of less spectacular or significant vessels, and by the tendency of Museums to display the more impressive items in their collections. It is believed that a disproportional number of these delicate and highly fragile items survived the late 16th and early 17th Centuries because they were used solely for special occasions [3].

Common Shapes

There is quite a variation in shape amongst surviving tazze.

Not all bowls are quite so shallow, for example the Austrian tazza (1560-1580, V&A Museum, accession number C.310-1936), which has considerably deeper vertical sides. There are also some examples of tazze without flat bottoms to the bowl, such as the filigree tazza (1550-1650, Victoria & Albert Museum, accession number 242-1853), which also has sloped walls. Some earlier tazze also appear to have a large, flat lip around the edge of the otherwise straight sided, flat bottomed bowl, as seen in the French tazza (1499-1514, Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 1975.1.1194)

Additionally the pedestals themselves range in height from that shown above to considerably shorter. The filigree tazza (1550-1650, Victoria & Albert Museum, accession number 242-1853) has a pedestal of less than half the height of the tazza shown in the "At Home in the Renaissance" exhibition (1550-1600, Victoria and Albert Museum, accession number 188-1879). This is still significantly taller than the approximately 2cm high foot in a surviving tazza fragment (1501-1600, Museum of London, accession number 21841).

There are also a number of examples of tazze with significantly wider pedestals. One excellent example of this is the gilt decorated Venetian tazza (1550-1600, Corning Museum of Glass, accession number 58.3.82).

Materials Used

While glass is by far the most common material among the surviving tazze and tazza fragments, other materials are also found on occasion. For example, the Italian Tazza made of carved and engraved rock crystal (1550-1600, British Museum, The Waddeson Bequest, Room 45).

There are a number of surviving metal tazze. For example the Italian "Aldobrandini Tazza" constructed of silver gilt (1560-1570, Victoria and Albert Museum, accession number M.247-1956). This tazza is obviously for serving sweetmeats rather than drinking wine (due to the figure emanating from the centre of the bowl that would poke any drinker in the eye) and as such its intended use may have had some influence on its material of manufacture. However there are several "standard" style metal tazze, such as the silver and parcel-gilt tazza made in Antwerp (1581-2, Victoria and Albert Museum, accession number M.37-1960) and there is no suggestion whether these were used for wine or sweetmeats. However, practical experience would suggest metal would be more suited to serving sweetmeats than drinking acidic wines.

Decorations

While there are plenty of examples of unadorned tazze, surviving examples and fragments also show many different types of decoration.

In some examples the glass itself is treated or manipulated in someway during manufacture. In one tazza (1550-1600, Victoria and Albert Museum, accession number: 3649-1856) the bowl is formed using the "Ice Glass" technique. The decoration is created when the hot glass bubble is plunged into cold water in order to create cracks on the glass surface, which are then enlarged by repeated heating and blowing the bubble, and cooling[4]. Another example is the Filigree Tazza (1550-1600, Victoria and Albert Museum, accession number 242-1853) where the maker incorporated opaque white glass "canes" into the clear glass tazza while it was being manufactured[5].

In other tazze the decoration is applied to the finished item using methods such as enamelling or gilding. There are many examples of tazze that are adorned with both enamel and gilt, and the most popular decoration would appear to be based around the Arms of the owners. For example the "Fugger Tazza" which displays the full coat of Arms of the Fugger family (1560-1580, Victorian and Albert Museum, accession number C.310-1936) and the "Medici Tazza" that shows the Medici arms and a symbol of the papacy (1513-1534, Corning Museum of Glass, accession number 57.3.44). Yet another example is the Strozzi Tazza, which again shows the family's Arms in enamel and gilt (1525-50, Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, accession number 84.2.10).

 

My Tazza

tazza This is my tazza, which my Laurel spotted while shopping in rather posh homeware stores.

Fortunately Meistern Christian had been subjected to my rhapsodising about tazze often enough that she recognised this for what it was immediately ... the perfect period style tazza. (Even if they were selling it as a compote.) Armed with this knowledge I was thus able to descend on the shop and snare this wonderful wine glass.

How Does My Tazza Compare to Period Tazze?

My tazza (above right) is virtually identical to several extant examples - in material, shape, size and decoration. However I do not have permission to reproduce the images of extant tazze here, so following are the museum/accession numbers and links to the museums for you to look up if you are interested in comparing them yourself.

Victoria & Albert Museum (Image Search)
1550-1600 tazza, accession number 188-1879 ("At Home in the Renaissance" exhibition),
1550-1600 tazza, accession number 3649-1856
1550-1625 tazza, accession number 5567-1859

Museum of London
English made fragment, accession number 24535

Corning Museum of Glass
1600-1649 English goblet, accession number 70.3.8

This is not the only style of period tazza, however the tall, delicate, flat bottomed shallow dish with minimal adornment is my personal favourite.

A word of warning, should you also find yourself enamoured with this highly impractical drinking vessel. Managing ones drink in a tazza is quite tricky as it tends to 'slop' with little encouragement and no warning. That is no doubt why it is considered to have required the "most sophisticated table manners to be able to drink from such a shallow glass without spilling" in period[6]. Indeed it is a brave individual who drinks red wine from one (or sits next to someone attempting such a feat).

Museum Collections Containing Tazze:

The British Museum Website, London.
Corning Museum of Glass Website, New York.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art Website, Los Angeles.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Website, New York.
Museum of London Website, London.
State Hermitage Museum Website, St Petersburg.
Victoria and Albert Museum Image Search Website, London.


[1]The term tazza is used by several museums for glass dishes of this style. For example the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Museum of London etc.
[2]Corning Museum of Glass Website Beyond Venice (England) downloaded 09/2004
[3]Victoria & Albert Museum Image Search Website accession number 188-1879 (among others), downloaded 04/2005
[4]Victoria & Albert Museum Image Search Website accession number 3649-1856, downloaded 19/04/2006
[5]Victoria & Albert Museum Image Search Website accession number 242-1853, downloaded 04/2005
[6]Victoria & Albert Museum Image Search Website downloaded 04/2005


First published online in 2006 on Per Mano Helois, later modified for publication in April 2009 edition of From the Tower.