Lot 5
  • 5

North German, probably Danzig, circa 1734,

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • An Armorial Casket with four interior boxes bearing the arms of Prince William IV of Orange and Anne, Princess Royal of Great Britain
  • amber on wood core, gilt hinges and lockplates


Prince William IV of Orange (1711-1751) and Anne, Princess Royal of Great Britain (1709-1759);
Prince Willem Frederik of the Netherlands (1797-1881) and Luisa, Princess of Prussia (1808-1870) (daughter of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. of Prussia and Luise, Princess of Mecklenburg Strelitz);
Princess Marie of the Netherlands (1841-1890) (great great granddaughter of Prince William IV and Princess Anne);
Thence by descent




General Overall the amber casket in a good condition considering the fragility and age of the material. The exterior amber panels are still clearly translucent enough to view the delicate engraved designs, the clarity and brightness of amber improves on the interior counter boxes. There are a few small areas of white amber and orange amber elements that have been lost and there are small areas (around hinges and drawer) where fragments of amber have flaked or chipped away. There are restorations visible to the corners of some of the counter boxes and the finials and feet on the casket. Casket – Exterior Lid of Casket The white amber carved detail on the top of the rear right finial is a restoration. There are losses to the smaller white amber carved detail around the base of the finials which run up the sides of central raised section of the lid. Front face of Casket In a very good condition besides the small losses around the lock to the drawer and some chips where the lid meets the body of the box and the drawer fits in. There is one section of wooden replica molding above the drawer. The locks and catch are in working order on both lid and drawer. Front feet The crowned eagles supporting the box are located in place with a brass screw that fits into a small fitting in the corner of the base of the box. The left eagle has a restoration across its neck and there is damage to the beaks of both eagles. Left end of Casket There is an area (3cm) of missing amber molding from the molded rail running horizontally around the middle of the box. The rear amber panels have suffered some damage from where the lid of the casket hinges. There are some losses to the vertical amber carving on both corners. Right end of Casket This end has the greatest loss of amber elements. There is one orange amber panel, one small white panel and the majority of the horizontal molding missing. The substrate, revealed by these losses, has been retouched to be an amber colour. There are some losses to the vertical amber decoration on rear corner. Rear face of Casket There are small chips along where the lid hinges against the body of the box. There is a small section of loss to the lower molding. Rear feet The amber orbs are also located with brass screws/pins. Both feet have been restored. Casket – Interior The counter boxes (x4) are all in very good condition but they have small losses and previous restorations. Only one box has not had an area of wooden molding inserted to replace missing moldings. The corners of all the boxes have been damaged and repaired. There are small chips and losses to the edge molding on the lid of the boxes from where they touch each other inside the casket. Recommendations for the objects future conservation It is recommended that this object is kept in a stable low humidity environment away from natural light as much as is possible. The four amber feet are also vulnerable as the material is quite brittle and having to support the weight of the casket.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This rare amber casket is engraved in intaglio, on the top of the lid and on each of the counter boxes, with the arms of William IV, Prince of Orange, (1711-1751), those of his wife Anne, Princess Royal of Great Britain (1709-1759), and those of Hanover. They married at the French chapel, St. James's Palace on the 25th March 1734. Anne was the eldest daughter of George II and Queen Caroline; Prince William IV of Orange was the only son of Jan Friso, Prince of Orange and Nassau-Dietz, Stadhouder of Friesland and Groningen who succeeded his kinsman King William III of England as Prince of Orange in 1702 (fig. 1.). The two coats of arms are surmounted by a crown and flanked by lion supporters with a scroll beneath inscribed with the Orange motto: JE MAINTIENDRAI. Indeed it is interesting to note that the coats of arms, apart from the insertion of the Hanoverian quartering, are almost identical to those of their kinsmen, William III, Prince of Orange (1650-1702) and King of England (1689-1702), and of Mary II, Queen of England (1662-1694)

The amber employed here is from the Baltic Sea. Formed from fossilised tree resin, this multi-hued opaque and translucent material has, since Paleolithic times, been regarded as precious, because of its association with therapeutic healing and cures for ailments such as jaundice and arthritis. The individual pieces were rarely over two inches in length and the present casket is constructed from hundreds of such examples. The two main centres of amber work were Konigsberg, now Kaliningrad, the capital of Prussia and Danzig (Gdansk) in Poland. Amber goods, prized for their skilled workmanship as well as their intrinsic value were ideal diplomatic gifts and were often used, as is likely with the present example, to commemorate the union of two important royal houses.

The base of the casket, presumably intended as a games box, is constructed on a wood core and is fitted with a lower interior drawer.  This lower section is veneered with translucent amber inset with small, opaque, quatrefoil amber pieces. Each side and the base is centred by a translucent panel engraved with landscapes of port and harbour scenes together with smaller panels enclosing scrolling acanthus leaves. These can be closely compared with those on the small casket in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. No.C.44-1923) dated to the late 17th or early 18th century which Trusted (op.cit.) explains derives from 17th-century engraved sources such as the work of J.W.Baur, Melchior Kuszel or possibly Matthaus Merian the Elder. Another related casket, probably made in Danzig, is illustrated in Laue (op.cit.), (figs. 2. & 3.), as are 17th-century panels with similar scenes incorporated into the early 18th-century amber cabinet in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum,  Braunschweig.

The upper section of the present casket as well as the counter boxes are constructed of panels glued and dowelled together and the front feet of the casket are in the form of two crowned eagles. The incurved lid is surmounted by carved white amber finials at the corners in the form of baskets with the central armorial panel bordered by shell and foliate motifs. The finials as well as the central decorative motifs are repeated on a cabinet  tentatively attributed to Danzig and illustrated by Trusted which is also in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. No.C.706-1909) as well as on a Danzig cabinet signed, Johan Georg Zernebach and dated 1724 which is preserved in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna (op.cit.).

It is rare to find a casket with its original four counter boxes extant and one which provides a more precise dating due to the inclusion of the royal armorial devices.

M. Trusted, Catalogue of European  Ambers in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1985, nos 17 and 18;
G. Laue, Bernstein. Kostbarkeiten Europäischer Kunstkammern, Munich, 2006, no. 44;
W. Siepel, Bernstein fur Thron und Altar, Das Gold des Meeres in furstlichen Kunst und Schatzkammern, exh. cat. Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, October 2005-January 2006, no. 83