This exceptional set is a gilded copper and coral inkwell known as Trapani. From the end of the Middle Ages, the town of Trapani in Sicily became an important artistic centre because of its coral reefs. This port city was home to a large Israelite population, but also to Christians and Muslims, who believed that the coral had divine power. In the 16th century, this material was considered rare and valuable because it was very difficult to extract. The popularity of coral also stems from the taste of the time for natural sciences and curiosity cabinets.

Until the 18th century, the city of Trapani had workshops specialising in works in gilded copper decorated with coral and this production was exclusive to the region. On the one hand, many religious objects were developed, particularly because, among Christians, coral symbolises the blood of Christ and was attributed magical virtues.

On the other hand, these objects could be secular and were intended for galleries or the ceremonial rooms of aristocratic families.
In general, the most beautiful pieces were used as diplomatic gifts and were destined for European courts. Our ensemble is one of them because it bears the coat of arms of the Medici family. The period to which this object is attributed leads us to believe that it was intended for Pope Leo XI, whose real name was Alexander Ottaviano de Medici.

A label on the back of the tray indicates that the set belonged to the collection of Antonio Virga (1923-2001). This collector from Palermo had a
particular taste for Sicilian decorative arts, more specifically those of the 15th and 16th centuries. Antonio Virga was distinguished by his willingness to acquire
to acquire objects from fields of art that were long considered minor, but which have long attracted interest, as well as some very fine pieces worthy of being exhibited in major museums.
This inkwell therefore represents a beautiful testimony to the production of coral works in Trapani. It provides an insight into the importance of this artistic centre in the 16th century, but also into its spread through diplomatic gifts.

Trapani gilt copper and coral inkwell – Italy – circa 1600