A DANISH GILT-BRONZE MOUNTED CARVED GILTWOOD, TORTOISESHELL, BRASS, PEWTER, BONE AND FRUITWOOD INLAID MARQUETRY WALNUT BUREAU CABINET, ATTRIBUTED TO DIETRICH SCHAEFFER, CIRCA 1750
- Tortoiseshell, pewter, ivory, gilt-bronze
By repute, acquired from Kokkedal Slot, by a member of the Sehestedt Juul Family, probably by Ove Sehestedt Juul (1830-1882) in the second half of the 19th century;
Thence by descent at Ravnholt Slot, Ørbæk.
M. Bencard, Silver Furniture, Rosenborg, 1992;
C. Christensen, Hørsholms Historie, fra 1305 til 1875, Copenhagen, 1976 (facsimile);
"Dietricht Schaffer", in S. Hartmann, Weilbachs Kunstnerleksikon, Copenhagen, 1994-2000, p. 377;
K. Voss, Arkitekten Nicolai Eigtved 1701-1754, Copenhagen, 1971;
Rigsarkivet, Reviderede Regnskaber, Kongelige Slotte og Haver, 1721-1849, Hirschholm (Hørsholm), 1721 Inventarieregnskaber–1725 mm, 571/1.
On a two-drawers chest stands a cabinet with shaped lower section with fall-front unveiling a writing surface, below a curious miniature spiegelkabinett, or cabinet of mirrors, veneered with tortoiseshell and fitted with a multitude of small giltwood brackets. Protecting the interior is a single paneled door with an elaborately inlaid scene which unlocks some of the significance of this object.
At its centre, a royal figure stands under an architectural structure topped by a pavilion of ermine ground, with the double royal cypher of King Christian VI (1699-1746) and Queen Sophie Magdalene (1700-1770) of Denmark-Norway, surrounded by military trophies, all within a larger architectural arrangement. Below the King, three steps with three recumbent lions on each flank guard a procession approaching, headed by a female figure with four further figures holding her dress train, watched by guards, and above, by the allegorical personifications of Art and Architecture. On the foreground a collection of jewels and precious objects appears to have left behind. At the very top, the Eye of Providence, with sunburst and surrounded by clouds, oversees the scene.
On August 6, 1746, King Christian VI died at Hirschholm Palace, extravagantly rebuilt under his reign. Shortly after his funeral, his widow wrote a testament, dated October 10, 1746. Before entrusting the Crown with her jewellery, thereby forming the basis of the Danish crown jewels, the Queen touches upon her religious view. She makes the will now, she states, because “the hour of death is hidden from us and we cannot know how soon God will demand our leaving this world” (apud Christensen, p. XXVI). When Death comes, she continues, she wants her body to be brought rapidly to that of “my most beloved King”, whom she describes as having been “with me one heart and one soul”. This reveals a Queen aware of the proximity of death and with the desire to be reunited with her loved husband, suggesting that the central iconography of this cabinet is indeed Sophie Magdalene in procession to join Christian VI in Heaven.
It is interesting to note the lions on the stairs ushering the King, a clear reference to the throne of King Solomon. Since the times of King Christian IV (1577-1648), the wise King Solomon had played an important part in the representation of the Danish monarch and the silver lions still flanking the royal throne today at Rosenborg are all part of this Solomonic iconography.
This central panel has a precedent and clear inspiration in the grand cabinet commissioned by Christian VI from Dietrich Schäffer in 1731, which celebrated the Danish monarchy and its territories (fig. 1). Still at Rosenborg, this late Baroque piece is also fitted with a central panel with the Royal coat of arms against a pavilion and topped by Christian’s cypher, a royal crown and, finally, the Eye of Providence surrounded by Mercury and Minerva on clouds. Below the crest is the King on a rampant horse, all in a wider architectural arrangement - similar to the one of the present lot - and framed by a cavetto border with brass-inlaid decoration (fig. 2). The panel is topped by the carved giltwood figure of the sovereign and flanked by a number of drawers with the crests of the different Danish territories furthering the glorification of monarchy.
These two panels share a similar composition scheme, proportions and inlay technique encompassing bone, pewter, brass and multiple woods, as well as using a number of closely comparable decorative elements.
The quality and particular style of the inlay, together with the clear affiliation between the two cabinets suggest they are by the same maker - Dietrich Schäffer. Employed by the royal family for several decades, in 1751 Schäffer was still delivering two rococo carved and parcel-gilt cases for the royal wax busts of King Frederik and Queen Sophie Amalie still in situ at Rosenborg. In view of his continued service for the court, it is therefore likely that he would have been called to create the present cabinet some twenty years after the commission of the first royal chatol.
A German-born craftsman, Schäffer moved to Copenhagen probably attracted by the building projects then starting. He joined the cabinet-makers' guild in 1732 without having to submit a chef-d'oeuvre, possibly due to the royal patronage and the accomplishment of the Rosenborg cabinet. By 1740 he had been designated Royal cabinet-maker.
He worked closely with the architects in charge of the royal palaces, such as Laurids de Thurah at Frederiksberg Castle, and Nicolai Eigtved. In the late 1740s he worked extensively at Christiansborg doing carving and carpentry work. He also worked at Württemberg Palace, Moltke's Palace at Amalienborg and at the Crown Prince’s Palace, giving proof of an accomplished and distinctive understanding of the Rococo language.
Over the years, Schäffer had absorbed the multiple foreign influences being injected since the 1730s by foreign and Danish artists travelling across Europe, and which effectively shaped the taste of the court. The German architect Elias David Häusser, French sculptor Louis Augustin Le Clerc and the German cabinet-maker Christian Friedrich Lehmann all helped define the taste of the monarchs and left their mark on multiple projects. It was nonetheless a Danish, the architect Nicolai Eigtved, who would be vital in forming this characteristic blend of Rococo and who probably had a role in the stylistic development of Schäffer’s work.
Born in 1701, Eigtved was trained as a gardener and developed to become the country’s leading architect, being involved in most of the important projects of his day. Having worked in Berlin and Dresden, he also stayed in Munich, where he was greatly influenced by the Rococo style of the recently built Schloss Amalienburg by François Cuvilliés. Eigtved worked at the interiors of Hirschholm in 1745, and it was under his supervision that Schäffer would have been employed at the Crown Prince’s Palace in Frederiksholm's Canal, and at Moltke’s Palace at Amalienborg where their joint effort created what are considered the finest Danish Rococo interiors.
With his Bavarian influences characterized by flamboyant scrolling, intricate trellis-work and overflowing floral bouquets, Eigtved’s style is clearly visible in the present bureau cabinet. Interestingly, his drawings for the Queen’s kitchen at Christianborg, dating from 1742, show display cabinets for porcelain fitted with multiple brackets (fig 3).
Sophie Magdalene was born in 1700, the daughter of Christian Heinrich, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth-Kulmbach and his wife, Countess Sophie Christiane of Wolfstein. Raised at the court of the Augustus II "The Strong", serving Queen Christiane Eberhardine, her family had gone through financial difficulties, which only increased after her father died.
The marriage to the then Crown Prince Christian, in 1721, was an unusual affair for the time: a love match and not a political alliance which, besides elevating her family prospects, was a well-suited match that resulted in a harmonious marriage.
The peace promoted by Christian VI during his reign, allowed the royal couple to focus on an extensive building campaign, with Sophie Magdalene taking a keen interest in multiple projects. “Beautiful buildings honour one’s country”, wrote the Queen in her will, and from 1731, when the King offered her Hirschholm, she had there her best opportunity to live up to this statement. The audience room, for example, was incredibly rich with red sandalwood “inlaid with a rich intarsia decoration in Chinese style with mother-of-pearl, silver, ebony, and other woods of different colours, All profile moldings were clad with silver, and all panels were covered with silver-framed, painted mirrors […]. The overdoors were of mirror glass, painted with the four seasons, and the stucco decorations on the ceiling were also inlaid with mirror glass. […] The room must have had an overwhelming effect.” (Bencard, 1992, p. 38). Interestingly, the carpenter in charge of the work, Matthias Ortmann, also a cabinet-maker, signed the work: “After Her Majesty the Queen’s most exalted invention, this was thus most humbly completed by M. Ortmann. Hafnia. 1746”. This inscription reveals a Queen deeply involved in the design choices of her own projects and it is possible to speculate about the degree of the Queen's intervention on some idiosyncratic design solutions found on the present piece, such as the straight legs and the central panel.
Spiegelkabinette had been popular from a least the late 17th century; they functioned as a means of displaying wealth not only through the use of expensive mirrored glasses but also by showcasing collections of rare and exotic objects such as porcelain and lacquer. In 1713-14, some years prior to the commission of this cabinet, Frederik IV built a Glass Cabinet in Rosenborg inspired by the celebrated Porcelain Cabinet in Charlottenburg, Berlin. It was natural then that Hirschholm would also have one of these rooms, as mentioned in the 1769 inventory. There, the “Speill Cabinettet” is described as lavishly equipped with inlaid decorations of several kinds of wood (“adskillige Sorter træ”, pp. 40-44) but also bone and mother-of-pearl. Apart from the expected glass mirrors, portraits depicting the Chinese Emperor and the King of England are also mentioned.
This diminutive and intimate example of Spiegelkabinett, made of similar materials to those in the above description, could have been made for and to match the palace’s larger example, and could have housed a miniature collection of porcelain vases, which would also be found overflowing to its exterior, namely to the crest’s carved giltwood brackets. The combination of tortoiseshell panels with giltwood mouldings surrounding the glass is very successful indeed, creating a condensed palatial interior of rich effect.
In Danish furniture making, the use of gilt-bronze mounts, or gilt metal, was normally reserved to handles and escutcheons and the quality was normally rather poor, especially when compared to other European centres of production. Most cabinet-makers opted for a cheaper solution when considering the corner or feet embellishments in carved giltwood. If, on the one hand, this allowed them to be more creative and flamboyant with their creations, on the other these areas were more prone to damage. Interestingly, in this lavish cabinet, Schäffer followed the local habit of employing carved giltwood in areas such as the corners, mouldings and even sabots. Nevertheless, the quality of the drawer handles, side carrying handles and escutcheons is truly exceptional, reminiscent of a silversmith’s work, and does not seem to have parallel in Danish furniture.
From Hirschholm to Ravnholt
When her beloved King died, Sophie Magdalene made Hirschholm (fig. 4) her main residence and one can assume that the cabinet would have taken pride of place there. Archival research in the Queen's Hirschholm and Christianborg inventories at the Danish National Archives has not so far confirmed the presence of this cabinet in either of these palaces. Interestingly, however, Hirschholm inventories do mention Dietrich Schäffer as supplying furniture to the Queen.
The cabinet would appear to have found its way to Ravnholt in the 19th century and family tradition, unaware of a royal connection, always had it as acquired from Kokkedal Slot, a manor house built just three miles from Hirschholm. Formerly part of the royal domains, the estate was gifted in 1746 by Sophie-Magdalene to the German Count Christian August von Berckentin, Danish Ambassador to Austria, and father of Louise von Plessen (1725-1799), one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting and an influential figure in the Danish court for years to come. Louise von Plessen lived there after the death of her husband in 1755 until 1766, when she was appointed Chief Court Mistress to the newly arrived Queen Caroline Mathilde, spouse of King Christian VII. According to some sources, after having been banished from the court two years later, Louise von Plessen again took up residence there for a short while, before moving to her Germany estates.
It should be mentioned as well that a few years after Louise von Plessen’s exile, Kokkedal was acquired by a relative, Heinrich von Levetzow (1734-1820), who had always been in close contact with Sophie Magdalene. Once her page boy, in 1768 h had risen to become head of the Queen’s Household.
After the widowed Queen’s demise in 1770, the court soon stopped using Hirschholm Palace, although much of the furniture remained there. It is possible that the furniture actually stayed in situ until the tearing down of the palace in 1810-12.
Whether the cabinet was then sold to the owner of the neighbouring Kokkedal estate, or was gifted by the Queen to Louise Von Plessen or Heinrich von Levetzow, is impossible to determine at this stage, but further archival research might bring new light to the subject.
In 1861, Ove Sehestedt Juul (1830 -1882) inherited Ravnholt and embarked on a renovation project, under the direction of the architect H.A.W. Haugsted, who gave the house its present configuration. It is possible that he acquired the cabinet in this context. The son of Christian Sehestedt Juul and a politician, Juul served in the Austrian army from 1852 to 1859. He also took the helm of his father’s business interests and was head of multiple civil and political organizations.
A unique object of intimate theatricality, this stunning bureau cabinet encapsulates the multiple layers of a rich story: an endearing love marriage and the shared passion for the Arts and for a country which resulted in an outstanding technical achievement, highly representative of a particularly valuable moment for Danish Art.
Sotheby's thanks Rasmus Agertoft for his assistance on the research on this lot