Snuffbox with Mother-of-Pearl Decoration, Gold, ivory, mother-of-pearl, German

Snuffbox with Mother-of-Pearl Decoration

19th century
Gold, ivory, mother-of-pearl
H. 7.8 cm, L. 8.3 cm, D. 6.2 cm
Credit Line:
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Accession Number:
Not on view
In construction and workmanship the box frame is late nineteenth- or twentieth-century in date, so the panels must be considered independently. Exotic — principally Chinese — subjects worked in these materials are found in tabatières à cage with unmarked mounts accepted as German, about 1750, and in boxes with marked Paris mounts dating from 1743 to 1762.(1) Despite the currency of the style in Paris, it is likely that all such work is of German origin, the plaques being imported by the marchands-merciers as another marketing novelty. While the plaques on this box are certainly German, their age is more difficult to determine.(2) The compositions on boxes of unquestioned authenticity are normally consistent in their exotic references, somewhat formal, and often clearly based on Chinese screens. Even when the subjects are invented, they are composed in an orderly manner. The present plaques are conspicuous for their compositional disarray and unlikely juxtapositions, such as the figure of America and the Chinese pagoda placed atop a large column on the cover. Allegories of America enjoyed some popularity as a decorative motif throughout the eighteenth century, but it is surprising that no other box in this style with the same subject matter has been noted. Furthermore, it may be observed that a combination of naturalism and romanticism in the pictorial style is at variance with mid-eighteenth-century treatment of exotic lands.

Catalogue entry from Claire Le Corbeiller. The Robert Collection. Decorative Arts, Volume XV. Wolfram Koeppe, et al. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 166-67.

1. One by Noël Hardivillers, 1743 – 44 (master 1729, died 1779; Snowman 1966, pls. 171 – 73) is fitted with panels apparently from the same workshop as those on a German box in the Metropolitan Museum (1974.356.654). The latest work bore marks by Paul Robert, 1762 (sale, Christie’s, Geneva, 11 May 1982, lot 193).
2. According to Charles Truman, there is ample evidence of mother-of-pearl panels for boxes being commissioned in Paris during the middle years of the twentieth century and several boxes bearing spurious Paris eighteenth-century hallmarks are known. See Somers Cocks, Anna, and Charles Truman. Renaissance Jewels, Gold Boxes and Objets de Vertu. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. London, 1984, nos. 84, 85.
Mrs. Henry Walters, Baltimore; Walters sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 23-26 April 1941, lot 509, ill. Acquired by Robert Lehman from the Walters sale.