FORGET ME NOT. A MEMORABLE AMBASSADORIAL GIFT
Accompanied by a manuscript deposition written by Juul's widow, Lucia Charlotte Juul, née Scheel (1765-1839), inscribed: cette boite d'Or est donnée de l'Electeur de / Saxe à feu mon Mari 1770
In 1768, at the age of 27, he was appointed envoyé extraordinaire to the court at Dresden where Frederick Augustus was about to take over the reins of government of Saxony from his regent uncle, on achieving his majority. Dresden was considered an agreeable posting: the city was ‘light, straight, white, tidy’ in the words of Colonel Robert Murray Keith, the contemporary British envoy from 1768 to 1771. The work was not onerous - at ten o’clock, ‘Business of Europe, - with a little music now and then, pour égayer les affaires’, at twelve, ‘Devoirs, at one or other of the Courts (for we have three or four). From thence, to fine ladies, toilettes and tender things’.2 The most important duty was to gather any information about the local situation, politics or opinions which might be of diplomatic interest at home.
Juul retained his appointment until the autumn of 1770, writing his last official reports to the Danish foreign minister, Johan Hartvig Ernst Bernstorff, in September of that year before being transferred as envoy to the Spanish court in Madrid.3 It is presumed that following courtly tradition, this box was given to Juul on his departure from Dresden, just as Keith was given a porcelain service by the Elector and ‘a very handsome snuff-box of Saxon stones with her picture’ by the Dowager Electress. This supposition is confirmed by the brief explanatory note still preserved within the box, written after Christian Sehestedt Juul’s death in 1788 by his widow Lucia Charlotte Juul, née Scheel, whom he had married on 13 October 1780.
Johann Christian Neuber (1736–1808) was one of the most creative artist-craftsmen patronised by the royal court at Dresden. He was apprenticed to Johann Friedrich Trechaon in 1752, at the age of 17. In 1762 he became master goldsmith and burgher of Dresden, succeeding Heinrich Taddel as director of the Grünes Gewölbe, and before 1775 he was also appointed court jeweller. It was from Taddel, his father-in-law and mentor, that Neuber acquired his knowledge of precious stones and how to work them. Neuber advertised a wide range of objects made from inlaid hardstones including boxes for ladies and gentlemen, cane handles, watch cases, chatelaines, and jewellery such as bracelets and rings. His distinctive style was popular both at court and with the many visitors who flocked to Dresden as it rebuilt itself after the Seven Years’ War. This individual style was eventually counter-productive with a novelty-seeking public and by the end of the 1780s, his over-extended enterprise started to suffer increasingly severe financial problems. These eventually led to Neuber’s retreat from Dresden in 1805 to the house of his son Christian Adolf in Eibenstock where he died on 2 April 1808.4
Certain themes recur in Neuber’s boxes but each is an individual, and different, work of art. The present box uses a woven trellis to suggest the idea of a basket and emphasises the forget-me-not flowers with double clusters as well as the more usual single flower garlands. The name forget-me-not, in English, for the myosotis flower, comes directly from the old German name Vergessmeinnicht which dates from the Middle Ages. The flower is rich with associations and legends in Germanic lore, with which both Neuber and the Saxon court would have been familiar, including the charming story of how, when God was naming the flowers, a tiny insignificant plant piped up “Forget me not, oh Lord”, to which God replied “That shall be your name”. Perhaps more often associated with parting lovers, in this case the flower, symbolic of faithfulness and loyalty, also served as a delicate reminder to the departing foreign envoy that he should not forget the Elector and his service in Dresden.
The note accompanying the present box makes it one of the earliest recorded boxes which can be attributed to Neuber. Although he is known to have been active in the 1760s, the first recorded signed and dated box, formerly in the Green Vaults, Dresden (Kugel, op. cit., no. 17) was inscribed: Neuber à Dresde 1770, the same year as the present box. It is also the first of the five surviving diplomatic boxes given by the Elector, the second having been awarded to Keith’s successor as British envoy to the Saxon Court, John Osborne, in 1775 (Kugel, op. cit., no. 120).
The tradition of presenting snuff boxes as royal or diplomatic gifts goes back to the early 18th century. The French kings had for several generations given important visitors the so-called boîtes à portrait which consisted of a miniature portrait of the monarch set within a valuable diamond frame. In the 1720s, the miniatures began to be inserted into tabatières.5 These French diplomatic snuff boxes are recorded and are the subject of an article to be published shortly. The ravages of time and war have destroyed many of the Saxon records and so the records of the presentation of diplomatic gifts no longer survive. Luckily this box, and its precious note, have been safely preserved by the family until the present day.
1Th. Thaulow, Stamhuset Ravnholt-Nislevgaard-Hellerups Godhistorie med sœrligt Henblik paa Herregaarden Ravnholt, Copenhagen, 1957, p. 67.
2Ed. Mrs Gillespie Smith, Memoirs and Correspondence (official and familiar) of Sir Robert Murray Keith, K.B., London, 1849, vol. I, p. 117.
3Much of the correspondence, in French and often encrypted, between Juul and Bernstorff is still extant in the Danish National Archives.
4 Walter Holzhausen, Johann Christian Neuber, Dresden, 1935
5 Anna Somers Cocks & Charles Truman, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Renaissance jewels, gold boxes, etc., London, 1984, pp. 19/20.
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