Miniature secretary incorporating a watch, ca. 1766–72
Signed by James Cox (English, ca. 1723–1800)
Case: agate, with gold mounts, gilded brass, pearls, and paste jewels set in silver; dial: white enamel; 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm)
Gift of Admiral F. R. Harris, in memory of his wife, Dena Sperry Harris, 1946 (46.184a–c)
Bejeweled butterflies and flowers that tremble in the slightest breath of air adorn this whimsical object, which plays tunes on a hidden music box and incidentally tells the time. The spring mechanism that powers the music is wound by inserting a key into a hole hidden behind one of the rosettes near the bulls that support the cabinet. The movement has a verge escapement, and the gilded back plate with its wheel balance and cock set with paste jewels is visible through a glass fitted to the back of the case.
Based on actual European Rococo cabinet designs, but with some improbable additions, the miniature is known to have been in the collection of Princess Z. M. Youssoupof in Saint Petersburg in 1904, and although it has been said to have been taken from China after the Boxer Rebellion in 1899, it may, in fact, have been imported into Russia long before.