Many New Yorkers will remember with what bitter disillusion they learned, in the early 1980s, that one of the Metropolitan Museum’s most admired and precious Renaissance treasures was, in fact, a nineteenth-century concoction. Predictably, they may also have experienced a frisson of satisfaction that, yet again, those learned, pompous art historians and connoisseurs had been duped, this time for decades on end. In fact, the glorious, and gloriously extravagant, “Rospigliosi Cup” turned out to be the inspired invention of a supremely gifted but totally obscure Aachen goldsmith named Reinhold Vasters (1827–1909). The magnificent gold and jewel-encrusted object had entered the museum in 1913 with the Benjamin Altman bequest as a work of none other than Benvenuto Cellini. By a striking coincidence, only a few years after the “Cellini” cup was grandly installed at the Metropolitan, a huge...


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