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Beaker and lid, engraved pewter, Friederich, Baron von der Trenck, 1763, Germany. Museum no. M.148-1930.
This is one of several beakers engraved by Friederich, Baron von der Trenck (1726-94). A distinguished soldier of fortune, he was imprisoned as a spy after an ill-advised affair with Frederick the Great’s sister. His autobiography The Life and Surprising Adventures of Frederick Baron Trenck describes how he passed the time in Fort Etoile, Magdeberg: “The daylight I enjoyed induced me to amuse myself by engraving satires and little drawings with the point of my nail on the tin cup out of which I drank: and I soon brought this art to so much perfection that my first attempt, though imperfect, was carried to the city.” The V&A’s beaker depicts scenes of his imprisonment and stories from Aesop’s fables. One of the scenes shows the baron chained to a wall after repeated escape attempts.