A highly important German ivory inlaid, green horn, tulipwood, boxwood, maracaibo and fruitwood, ebony and ebonised and marquetry cabinet circa 1710, after engravings by Peter Schenk (1660-1718) and from 'China Illustrata' by Fr. Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680)
- 151cm. high, 93cm. wide, 42cm. deep; 4ft. 11½in., 3ft. ½in., 1ft. 4½in.
Ulrich-Adolph Graf von Holstein (Grand Chancellor and brother-in-law of King Frederick IV)
Heinrich Holstein-Holsteinborg, Lehnsgraf of the county of Holsteinborg (transferred to Schloss Waternerverstorff) in around 1780
By family descent to Franz Graf von Waldersee
The Altona Cabinet on stand came by descent from the „Lehnsgrafen” Heinrich Holstein-Holsteinborg, “Lehnsgraf” of the county Holsteinborg along the Danish South Sea and in around 1780 to Waterneverstorff. He inherited the estate from his grandmother, Elisabeth Countess Blome, née Countess Rantzau, in 1776. He chose it to be his main residence and enlarged the small baroque manor into a Schloss and financed the lavish refurbishment through the sale of his town palace on the Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen, opposite of the Royal Opera, and furnished his new residence in the duchy of Holstein with the contents of his palace. The palace was built by Heinrich’s grandfather, the great-chancellor Ulrich-Adolph Graf von Holstein, brother-in-law of King Frederick IV, who owned a similar cabinet on stand.
Heinrich Holstein died just before the Napoleonic wars at a young age and left his wife and her children with a considerable and weighty inheritance. The estate remained in diffuculty through the Danish state bankruptcy after the Napoleonic wars. The baroque Schloss was subsequently redesigned as a neoclassical house in 1852 by Heinrich’s grandson, the Count Conrad Holstein. The cabinet has been in the house for over 200 years and is today the property of his fourth generation great-grandson and owner of the estate, Franz Graf von Waldersee.
Birgit Sander, Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorf Museum fur Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Ein Kabinettschrank mit Chinoiserien, um 1710, The Schleswig-Holstein Federal State Musuem Foundation, Gottorf Castle, 2000.
Athananasius Kircher, China and Europe, Understanding China and the Chinese Style in the 17th and 18th centuries, Berlin Exhibition Catalogue, Charlottenburg Palace, 1973, cat. No. E10.
Wolfgang Neidhardt and Karl-Heinz Golzio in: Neidhardt Antiquitaten, ein koniglicher kabinettschrank von 1712, gefertigt von Conrad Geisler, Kunsttischler in Hamburg-Altona (Niedhardt Antiques, A Royal Cabinet From 1712, Made by Conrad Giesler, Cabinet-Maker in Hamburg-Altona), Munich, 1998.
The marquetry on this cabinet is based upon engravings in `China illustrata’ by the Jesuit Father Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680). This publication with detailed illustrations gave a unique insight into 17th century China. It had detailed treatise on Zoology, Religion, Geology and Asian languages and appeared in Amsterdam in Latin in 1667and was translated into German, Dutch, French and English-see Neidhardt and Golzio op.cit. The scenes on the front of the doors reflect very closely the Kircher engravings.
The front of the left door depicts the Chinese ruler Shun-chih (1638-1661) in an elaborate tunic standing on a floor decorated with a chequerboard pattern and with draped curtains and richly adorned walls with a statue of Buddha in the background-see fig. 1. To his right is a small dog. The front of the right hand door depicts the seated Mogul Indian Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) holding court with a small dog to his left and two turbaned men in front of him and a further two behind a balustrade-see fig. 2. The scenes on the drawers of the top depict men and women of the various different regions in Asia in their various traditional garb eg. Tartars, Nepalese. Furthermore, the scenes on the upper and lower drawers of the inside can be traced to the copperplate engraver based in Amsterdam-Peter Schenk (1660-1718/19). The three people on the top have been taken from a twenty-part undated series of etchings -`Chineese en Vremden Nasie’, (Staatliche Museum, Berlin). –see fig 3. The tea-drinkers have come from an eight part series of etchings again undated, `Chinese presentations in a Landscape’–see fig.4.
The scenes on the inside of the left doort derive from Schenk with the tea drinkers seated at a table-see fig. 5. and the Chinese musicians on the right hand doors-see fig. 6. There is also a scene depicting a pair of Chinese figures- fig. 7, as well as a Chinaman with cymbals-see fig.8.
The maker of the cabinet:
This cabinet may have been produced in around 1715 in Altona in the workshop of the celebrated cabinet-maker Conrad Geisler. Altona was part of the Duchy of Holstein and belonged to the Danish Crown and this would explain the connection with the related furniture in the royal Palace of Rosenborg in Copenhagen which is well documented-see post.
This cabinet is extremely rare emphasised by the fact that only four other comparative examples are recorded, two of which are in major museum collections:
-A cabinet in the Schleswig-Holstein Federal State Museum of Gottorf Castle-see fig. 9. It has the same decorative scenes on the front doors with the Emperor Shun-Chih and Akbar the Great Mogul of China and on some of the internal drawers as on the offered cabinet.
-a cabinet (now missing) formerly in Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen. There is also a table and two guéridons and a mirror which in both form and materials is clearly from the same workshop as the offered cabinet-see fig 10. The marquetry on the aforementioned pieces are based upon engravings from illustrations of the travels in Arnoldus Montanus, Memorable Legations of the East India Company in the United Netherlands to Various Emperors of Japan and some motifs are taken from Kircher’s book. It is recorded in the Copenhagen archives as being by Conrad Geisler the Altona cabinet-maker. This set are recorded in the inventory of Rosenborg palace of 1718 and a missing cabinet used to be part of this group of furniture as Court accounts dating from 1712 refer to this cabinet. This suite of furniture was placed in the Marble Room on the ground floor of the Palace by the Danish King Frederick IV (1671-1730), which also served as the throne Room which clearly demonstrates the high esteem in which this suite of furniture was held. The cabinet was moved before 1731 to one of the rooms adjacent to the throne room and was transferred to Christiansborg in 1791. It was later placed in the servant’s quarters where it was probably destroyed by the castle fire three years later.
-A cabinet made in the same workshop as the Rosenborg cabinet recorded in the in Berlin Schlossmuseum, missing since the Second World War-see fig. 11. The external right hand door is based upon Kirchner’s illustration, with a Chinaman at the foot of a Polomie tree with oversized fruit and it also depicts on the inner drawers the images of Chinese drinking tea and the three persons in different costumes as on the offered cabinet which derive from Peter Schenk’s engravings and are also found on the offered cabinet.
-a cabinet in a Private collection-see fig. 12. As in the case of the offered cabinet the two exterior doors depict the Chinese Emperor and the Indian Great Mogul based upon Kirchner’s engravings. The scenes on some of the interior drawers also derive from Schenk such as the scene of two Chinamen drinking tea-also on the offered cabinet. It also has a scene combining two prints from Schenk also depicted on the offered cabinet of Chinese noblemen eating and a group of Chinese musicians together with a pair of figures and a Chinaman playing cymbals as on the offered cabinet.
-the door of a cupboard in the Spessartmuseum, Lohr on the Main which depicts the Great Mogul of India Akbar but differing slightly from the Kirchner print with variations in the dress and throne. The scene is the same as on the right door of the offered cabinet, the Schleswig and Privately owned cabinet but it is reversed.
We would like to thank the Curator at the Schleswig-Holstein Federal State Museum of Gottorf Castle for allowing us to inspect their cabinet.