Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Box with scene depicting Roman hero Gaius Mucius Scaevola before the Etruscan king Lars Porsena

P R (British, early-mid 18th century)
Chased by George Michael Moser (1706–1783)
British, London
Overall (confirmed): 1 3/4 × 4 9/16 × 3 5/8 in. (4.4 × 11.6 × 9.2 cm)
Metalwork-Gold and Platinum
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1976
Accession Number:
Not on view
Although this box is one of the finest surviving examples of eighteenth-century English goldsmiths’ work, little is known about its manufacture and history, or even its intended function. The comparatively large size of the box suggests that it was not meant to contain snuff but rather may have served as a presentation box, intended to reward a specific feat or service. The box is marked with the initials "P. R.," which have been interpreted as the mark of a silversmith named Peter Russell, but this identification is far from conclusive. The only secure information is provided by the signature on the lid of George Michael Moser, followed by the date 1741. Moser was a chaser, the term for those who worked the surface of metal with hammers and punches in order to create low-relief decoration.

Born in Switzerland, Moser appears to have learned the skills of chasing and gilding from his father, and he moved to England in 1726 in search of better opportunities in his trade. By the late 1730s he was established as an independent gold chaser in London, and early in the following decade he was already recognized for his outstanding abilities. At Moser’s death, the court painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) praised his chasing skills, "in which art he has always been considered as holding the first rank."[1]

Moser’s abilities are readily apparent in the complex and beautifully executed compositions that decorate the top and bottom of this box. The cover is chased with a scene depicting the Roman hero Gaius Mucius Scaevola before the Etruscan king Lars Porsena. The underside of the box depicts the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, suckled by a wolf in front of a river god personifying the Tiber. In the clarity of forms and precision of detail, and especially in the fluid transition from low to high relief, Moser’s work reflects chasing at its highest level of skill.

[1] Public Advertiser, January 30, 1783, quoted in Edgcumbe 2000, p. 85.
Signature: Engraved on cover, at feet of Mucius Scaevola: [1] G:M: Moser: fecit/Londen [sic] 1741; engraved on base, on edge of mound below paw of shewolf: [2] Moser:f

Marking: Inside bottom and cover: PR, fleur-de-lis above, in conforming reserve (maker's mark)
Admiral Edward Vernon (from 1741) ; Ernest George Pretyman (until 1932; sale, Christie's, London, June 29, 1932, lot 124; to Nachemson); Nachemson (from 1932) ; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman , New York (until 1976; to MMA)
Related Objects

Automaton in the form of a chariot pushed by a Chinese attendant and set with a clock

Artist: James Cox (British, ca. 1723–1800) Date: 1766 Medium: Case: gold with diamonds and paste jewels set in silver, pearls; Dial: while enamel; Movement: partly gilded brass and steel, wheel balance and cock of silver set with paste jewels Accession: 1982.60.137 On view in:Gallery 540

Snuffbox or patchbox

Artist: Saint James's Factory (British, ca. 1748/49–1760) Date: ca. 1751–54 Medium: Soft-paste porcelain, agate, gold Accession: 1982.60.352 On view in:Gallery 538

Wine cooler (one of a pair)

Artist: William Lukin I (British, active 1699– ca.1755) Date: 1716/17 Medium: Silver Accession: 68.141.128 On view in:Not on view

Tankard engraved with scenes depicting the Fire of London and the Great Plague

Artist: I N (British, mid-late 17th century) Date: 1675/76 Medium: Silver Accession: 1987.54 On view in:Not on view

Wine cistern

Artist: Lewis Mettayer (British, active 1700, died 1740) Date: 1709–10 Medium: Silver Accession: 68.141.132 On view in:Not on view