The route to Rome developed, over the centuries, into a main trading route, linking Augsburg to other trading towns. After all, Augsburg was located in the south of Germany, not very far from the modern borders with Austria (to the east) and Switzerland (to the west).
By 1276 trade and banking were so important to this otherwise ordinary town that the good burghers of Ausburg were able to make their home into a Free Imperial City. The local municipal government was able to make its own plans, raise its own taxes and legislate for its own laws.
gilt silver, embossed dish made by Abraham Waremberger with Roman emperor busts
But power was being distributed more widely than expected; Augsburg's guild constitution provided that all the craft guilds were to send representatives to the Great and Small Councils. Although the patricians retained the mayoral position, the guilds actually shared power with the Great and Good Families. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the Augsburg economy boomed because of its export of gold and silver art, armour, the establishment of textile manufacturing, and the city's continuing role in banking and finance.
nautilus cup with silver gilt mount, by Ulrich Ment, c1623, now in Galerie J Kugel, Paris
Wealthy, cultivated and powerful families became wonderful patrons of gold and silver art objects. And the demand must have been endless. Even when Augsburg had only 30,000 inhabitants, some 260-275 of them were occupied full time as master gold and silversmiths.
Although the objects were for domestic use rather than for public use, these objects still had to be grand enough to decorate halls designed for solemn ceremonies, large receptions and sumptuous banquets. Examine, for example, the gilt silver dish made and embossed by Abraham Waremberger in Augsbug. I would love to know just how heavy and how broad this dish really was.
Some art objects were clearly ceremonial or decorative, but not necessarily functional. A nautilus cup with silver gilt mount, made by Ulrich Ment in Augsburg during the early 1620s, had the outer layer of the shell removed to reveal the lustrous inner layer. Sometimes the ornate lids of nautilus cups were detachable, as was the case with other forms of covered ceremonial drinking cups. But even then, I wouldn’t have allowed my teenage sons to play soccer in the dining room.
And not just private families. In 2008, The Moscow Kremlin organised an exhibition of 500 Augsburg masterpieces, often given as ambassadorial gifts by the representatives of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Holy Roman Empire, Denmark and Sweden. The display included gold and silver trays, tankards, ewers and decorative sculptures that were placed near fireplaces, all of which glorified Augsburg and its silversmiths, and thrilled the recipients. A lidded silver jug, made by Melhior Gelb in the c1654, was decorated with embossing and pouncing. This was an ambassadorial gift, brought by King Charles X Gustav of Sweden, in 1655. A silver double goblet, made in Augsburg between 1576-1583, displayed casting, embossing and pouncing.
lidded silver jug, by Melhior Gelb, c1654
In Augsburg itself, the place to visit would be The Maximilian Museum. It displays many fine exhibits from the city's great silver- and goldsmith artists. And for a very useful reference, see Lorenz Seelig Silver and Gold: Courtly Splendour from Augsburg (Art & Design), Prestel, 1995.
Patrician family homes, Maximilianstrasse Augsburg, C16th and C17th