The box is one of four in the same technique and style and by the same hand;(1) the objects constitute a subgroup within an original production of about 125 boxes (the so-called “Potsdam” boxes) purchased, and presumably commissioned, by Frederick II of Prussia between 1742 and 1775.(2) Of this number, 25 survive.(3) All are characterized by their large size, heavy weight, cartouche shape, and extensive use of diamonds both for rims and thumbpiece and as an integral part of the decoration. The bodies of some are of hard stone, others are of enameled gold. This is the only glass-bodied piece. The four works represented by this box are all decorated with sprays of flowers or fruit in diamonds and multicolored stones or (as here) glass applied to the surface, and the gold mounts are of a rather simple but well-chased design of undulating scrolls and flower heads. The designs for all the Potsdam boxes have been attributed to the English-born artist Jean Guillaume George Krüger (1728 – 1791), active in Berlin between 1753 and about 1774. Although there is no exact correlation between these four boxes and any of Krüger’s fourteen known designs,(4) they are mutually consistent in overall scheme and in details of flowers and scrollwork. According to the accounts of the Privy Purse, the boxes were supplied by at least ten retail jewelers and goldsmiths, among them Christian Ludwig Gotzkowsky, Daniel Baudesson, and the brothers André and Jean-Louis Jordan.(5) Some were described with precision, but most were mentioned only briefly, and as none of the surviving boxes is signed, few attributions can be attempted.(6) When examined under high magnification it is evident that a large percentage of the floral decoration has been reattached or restored, as pieces are set down in a thick transparent glue rather than the usual, less conspicuous adhesive. A certain amount of drying out and subsequent loss is to be expected, a point confirmed by the Gilbert box, which in 1914(7) was missing several floral elements that had been replaced before 1982 when it appeared on the art market. It is not clear whether the “stones” of the Lehman box are substitutions for genuine hard stones or whether colored glass was used throughout originally.
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. 164-65.
1. The present box; collection of Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert; sale, Sotheby’s, London, 10 June 1974, lot 26; and Louvre oa 2142. Charles Truman considers the group to be of an indeterminate size, rather than four, and probably by the same hand, rather than definitively by the same hand.
2. Seidel, Paul. “Die Prunkdosen Friedrichs des Grossen.” Hohenzollern-Jahrbuch 5 (1901), pp. 74 – 76.
3. Somers Cocks, Anna, and Charles Truman. Renaissance Jewels, Gold Boxes and Objets de Vertu. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. London, 1984, p. 278. See also Baer, Winfried. “Ors et pierres des boites de Frederic-le-grand.” Connaissance des arts, 1980, no. 346 (December), pp. 101 – 2; Solodkoff, Alexander von, and Geza von Habsburg-Lothringen. “Tabatieren Friedrichs des Grossen.” Kunst & Antiquitäten, 1983, no. 3 (May – June), pp. 36 – 42.
4. Snowman, A. Kenneth. Eighteenth Century Gold Boxes of Europe. London, 1966, pls. 523, 534. Charles Truman refers to eighteen surviving designs, out of about forty that Krüger is thought to have executed. See Klar, Martin. Die Tabatieren Friedrichs des Grossen. Berlin, 1929, p. 6. [Also published in Der Cicerone 21, pp. 7 – 18.]; Prunk-Tabatieren Friedrichs des Grossen. Exhibition, Neuer Kammer, Park Sanssouci, 14 March – 25 April 1993. Organized by the Stiftung Schlosser und Garten Potsdam-Sanssouci. Catalogue by Winfried Baer. Munich, p. 9.
5. Seidel, Paul. “Die Prunkdosen Friedrichs des Grossen.” Hohenzollern-Jahrbuch 5 (1901), pp. 84 – 86.
6. According to Charles Truman, the use of glass as a body for the box and for some of the flowers here is worthy of comment: only two goldsmiths appear to refer to this practice in their invoices in the Schatullen-Rechnungen (Privy Purse Accounts) of Frederick the Great. On 19 January 1752, the Jordan brothers supplied a gold snuffbox “a pierres d’Email taillé” and on 30 November 1754, Daniel Baudesson supplied a “Tabatiere fond mosaique fait d’émail taillé imitant l’emeraud.” See Seidel 1901, p. 84. The terms pierre d’émail taillé and émail taillé suggest something more than just basse-taille enamel. Indeed, thecolored glass body of this box could not be better described than as pierre d’émail, since enamel is colored glass, in this case used in imitation of stone.
7. Biermann, Georg. Deutsches Barock und Rokoko. 2 vols. Leipzig, 1914, no. 630.