Martina Pall, Schlüssel und Schlösser, Schell Collection, Graz, 2012
Ewald Berger, Prunk-Kassetten, Schell Collection, Graz, 1998
Martina Pall, Versperrbare Kostbarkeiten, Schell Collection, Graz, 2006
Strong boxes on this scale made exclusively out of iron began to appear from the early 17th century. Their primary use was the safe-keeping and protection of money and important heir-looms, however, as the century developed and municipal institutions such as the ‘Ducal loan banks’ and the ‘Widows and Orphans Bank’ began to appear the use of these coffers began to evolve. By the early 18th century intricate decorative schemes were employed in the design, not only highlighting the developing skills of various metal workers, notably in Southern Germany, but also turning what were purely functional object into a work of art.
The defining aspect of strong boxes of this quality is undoubtedly the highly elaborate locking mechanisms to the inside of the lid. Although the development of multi-bolt locks did not evolve during the early baroque as much as it had the previous century, 1730 can be seen as a turning point. As the rococo aesthetic began to influence the exterior design, so to, the interior. The complexity of the locking mechanism - often including over twenty separate bolts - became part of the romance and beauty of the piece. Maintaining a Spartan level of security, the locks become juxtaposed to delicate designs with scrolling, almost, floral metalwork.
The present box relates very closely to one sold Carlton Towers House sale (fig. 1), Sotheby's, 4th November 2009, lot 3 (£73,250). The Carlton Towers strong box which incorporates the same floral motifs to the front panel and drop swag decoration to the canted corners is also in the manner of Johann Gottlieb Dittman and Sigmund Gatchen. Little is published on Dittman and Gatchen although there style can be traced to a signed strong box formerly in the Alphonse de Rothschild Collection (fig. 2), sold Sotheby’s, Monaco, 26th March 1973, lot 167, of similar form which shares the same maker's stamp as seen in the present coffer. The Carlton Towers coffer also shares the same gadrooned decoration to the corners continuing the likely attribution. A recurring theme amongst coffers of this date including another dated 1730, in the Hanns Schell collection, is the use of paired phoenix. The use of the phoenix and the scrolling acanthus decoration is demonstrative of the eastern influence on the progenitors of the rococo aesthetic such as Jean Berain (d.1711).
Château de Bourlemont:
Commanding the Meuse valley since the mid-13th century Château de Bourlemont has been intrinsically linked with French history for over eight hundred years. First realised in its current form in 1248 by Joffroy de Bourlemont (d. 1268) on his return from the Holy Land, the château sits at the strategically important confluence of the Meuse and Saônelle rivers in the Lorraine region of France. Since its erection Bourlemont has passed ownership through three noble families. Firstly the Bourlemonts, then to the Anglure and finally to the princely house of Alsace-Hénin-Liétard, whose patriarch Jean-François added this coffer to the collection. It is interesting to note that a beech tree on the estate has played an important role in the Château’s history on two separate occasions 500 years apart. Firstly in the 13th century when the tree, then known as the Tree of the Ladies (L'Arbre des Dames), was believed to have magical qualities which induced Joan of Arc to hear the voices which commanded her to liberate France. Secondly in 1769 when Jean-François was walking through the grounds and was so impressed by the tree and the situation of the house he immediately bought the entire estate.
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