Object of the Month
Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site has a large museum collection consisting of thousands of objects, many of which are not regularly displayed in the house's furnished exhibit rooms. Every month, an object will be featured on this page, providing a look at an unusual piece from the collection.
This tazza (a shallow bowl on a stem or foot) is regularly displayed in a corner cabinet in the Longfellow house parlor. It features a thin agate bowl with a brass stem and foot, and has two small brass dragon-figures facing each other from opposite sides of the bowl's rim. It was given to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1857 by his wife's brother-in-law, Robert James Mackintosh. A letter from Henry to Mackintosh dated May 4, 1857 reads:
"All the presents came safe and sound, two days ago, and produced a great sensation among the little folks. You know there is always a great fascination in opening boxes, and always has been since the first, the famous classic one, out of which all the presents flew away, except one; - and that one was left to suggest the witty definition, that gratitude 'is a lively sense of favors yet to come.'
Ours have come unharmed; though how the Custom House officers consented to let the beautiful agate cup pass through their hands without breaking it, remains a mystery.
I am as much pleased with my present as any of the children with theirs. Do you know the history of it? Is it a Benvenuto Cellini? As a souvenir of Rogers it possesses a double charm; and is a symbol of his hospitality, which he dealt out to me with open hands and doors when I was in London last."
Benvenuto Cellini was a Florentine goldsmith in the sixteenth century, famous for the quality of his work. We don't know if Longfellow ever got an answer to his query about the cup's maker, but it is more likely a nineteenth century piece made in a Renaissance style rather than one of Cellini's own works. And as mentioned in the letter quoted above, the tazza had once belonged to the English poet Samuel Rogers, whom Longfellow met during a trip to England in 1842. It has now been in the Longfellow house for more than 150 years, and displayed in the parlor for over a century.
Did You Know?
Henry W. Longfellow grew his beard to hide scars received as a result of a fire in 1861 that killed his wife Fanny and burned his neck and face.