Wednesday 22 October 2014
Bonhams to offer rare museum-quality Augsburg 'Kunstkammer' Cabinet with Florentine pietre dure panels. The extraordinary piece is one of a small group of highly important table-top cabinets made in Augsburg, Germany during the mid-17th century. Standing roughly 85cm high and wide, and made of ebony (Diospyros spp.), silver and Italian pietre dure panels, this 'Kunstkammer' is set to be the star of the European Furniture, Sculpture, and Works of Art sale on 5 December, with a pre-sale estimate of Â£400,000-600,000.
For centuries it was the highlight of one of Ireland's most distinguished private collections, in one of the country's most important houses - Ballyfin, Co. Laois. This cabinet was almost certainly purchased for Ballyfin by Sir Charles Henry Coote, 9th Baronet, in the first half of the 19th-century - and until 2006 it was kept in the family despite the sale of the house in the 1920s.
The forthcoming sale of this remarkable and extremely rare piece represents a truly exciting event for the art world. It has been preserved in immaculate condition and we see it today as it stood some 350 years ago.
The cabinet, circa 1660, is one of only a small group known to still exist, produced at a time when the craftsmanship and prestige of Augsburg's cabinetmakers was unsurpassed throughout Europe. They were made to reflect the social standing, intellect and wealth of the commissioning patron and were fashioned from the most expensive and exclusive materials sourced from around the world. The pietre dure panels - marble inlaid with designs depicting birds and flowers in lapis lazuli and other hard stones - were produced by the Florentine Grand Ducal Workshops, or 'Opificio delle Pietre Dure'.
Within this cabinet are some 40-plus drawers or compartments, some hidden and all lined with exotic silks and intricate wooden marquetry. So complex is its design, that the last owner recently discovered a new compartment when exploring the cabinet with his grandchildren. They were used to house collections of 'curiosities' and 'microcosms of the universe' - an encyclopaedic range of natural and man-made wonders encompassing natural history artefacts, precious stones and metals, shells, minerals, scientific instruments and other prized possessions, designed to reflect the entire cosmos on a miniature scale.
The signature in pencil on the underside which reads 'Elias Boscher gemacht' - 'made' - together with the hallmark of known Augsburg silversmith Johann Spitzmacher on the gilt mounts, are highly unusual for such a work of art, and provide a crucial artistic attribution. The relatively recent rediscovery of the cabinet in 2006 has contributed significantly to our knowledge of a group of pieces that represent a zenith in Continental decorative furniture making. The remarkable provenance and museum-quality condition also add greatly to this cabinet's value and prestige.
(PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF BONHAMS)
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