Lot 6
  • 6

A pair of Italian gilt-bronze-mounted marble busts of blackamoors, Venetian, 18th century, on gilt-bronze-mounted brass and tortoiseshell inlaid première-and contre-partie boulle marquetry ebony veneered pedestals stamped N. P. Severin, Régence, circa 1715 18th century

250,000 - 500,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • pine/poplar, tortoiseshell
  • busts: one 96cm high, 66cm wide, the other 93cm high, 66cm wide; each pedestal: 131cm high, 52cm wide, one 34.5cm deep, the other 33.5cm deep; 3ft.1½in., 2ft.1½in., 3ft.½in., 2ft.1½in., 4ft..3in., 1ft.8in., 1ft.1in., 1ft.¾in.
the marble busts with nero del Belgo heads, giallo antico veneered cloaks, the lapels in alabastro striato, over rosso antico tunics with pierced gilt-bronze frogging and buttons, with green sashes their feathered turbans with gilt-lead tassels; on pale brown marble socles; one pedestal in première-partie the other in contre-partie boulle marquetry, each with a rectangular brass inlaid ebony veneered top above a guilloche border enclosing flowerheads above a concave frieze with an acanthus spray at each corner above a bearded Bacchic mask and a gilt-bronze stippled band centred by a demi-lune, the front and sides with a boulle marquetry panel with rinceaux and foliage and scrolls within a foliate gilt-bronze border within brass borders, the flared base with a gilt-bronze alternating band of foliage, on a plinth base with a central ogee shaped reserve; one stamped twice N. P. Severin, the other once ; later iron brackets on the reverse, some minor losses to inlay   


The busts:
Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874),(see fig. 1.),  in the Grand Hall at Mentmore, Buckinghamshire (see fig. 4.), illustrated in a watercolour of the Grand Hall by H. Brewer, 1863, (see fig. 5.).
Thence by descent to his daughter Hannah Primrose, Countess of Rosebery (1851-1890) (see fig. 3.) and son-in-law Archibald Philip Primrose (1847-1929), the 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929) (see fig. 2.);
Recorded in the Mentmore Inventory, an undated printed bound volume of about 1876 as follows: 
480 A set of four fine busts of negroes, the heads of black marble, with white marble turbans and feathers, the drapery of various rare coloured Italian marbles—36 in. high.
Recorded on marble pedestal-columns in the Mentmore Catalogue, compiled by Hannah and published by R. & R. Clark of Edinburgh in 1883 and again in two illustrated volumes in 1884 as follows:
30. Yellow-veined marble column-pedestal.
31. Pink-veined marble companion column-pedestal.
32. Companion column-pedestal.
33. Companion column-pedestal.
Upon these column-pedestals stand:
23. Bust of negro in marbles of various colours.Workmanship Florentine.
24. Companion bust.
25. Companion bust.
26. Companion bust.
Sold on behalf of the Executors of 6th Earl of Rosebery and his family, by Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., at Mentmore, Buckinghamshire, Vol. I, 18th May 1977, lots 225. (The other pair was sold as lot 226 in the sale). 
Collection of the Princess Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa. 



Catalogue Note

Comparative Literature:
Andrea Bacchi,The Sculpture in Venice from Sansovino a Canova, Milan, 2000, no. 226.
Oliver Brackett, Victoria and Albert Museum, Catalogue of the Jones Collection, Part I, Furniture, London,1930, p. 6, no. 6 (1025-1882).
John Pope-Hennessy, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Vol III, London,1964, plate 707 (No. 716).
Leo McKinstry, Rosebery a Statesman in Turmoil, London, 2005.
J.G. Mann, Wallace Collection Catalogues, Sculpture, London, 1931, plate 4, S17.   
Alexandre Pradère, French Furniture Makers, The Art of the Ébéniste from Louis XIV to the Revolution, Tours, 1989, p.106.
Jean Nérée Ronfort, André-Charles Boulle 1642-1732, Un nouveau style pour l'Europe, pp.196-197, illustrated p. 197 5 a & b.
Trinity Fine Art and Carlo Orsi: An Exhibition of European Works of Art at Adam Williams Fine Art, 17th-25th April 2002, no. 23, p. 50.
Pierre Verlet, Collection Connaissance des Arts, Les ébénistes du XVIIIe siècle français, Paris,1963, p. 33, fig. 5.

The Mentmore busts:

These magnificent blackamoor busts in the choicest marbles with beautiful gilt-bronze embellishments and well executed carving reflect the taste for busts of blackamoors in varied clothing and headdress carved from multicoloured marbles, alabasters and porphyry which became increasingly popular during the seventeenth century.Their exoticism contrasting with vibrantly coloured drapery resulted in powerfully arresting images that were collected and disseminated throughout Europe by Grand Tourists who visited Italy and particularly Venice.  Decorative busts of this type appeared, for example, in the inventory of Cardinal Richelieu's collection as early as 1643. These busts constituted important decorative elements of the residences of 18th and early 19th century connoisseurs, demonstrating not only their owner's taste but also their cultured and extensive travels. The workshops normally produced them as pendants, utilising whatever semi-precious marbles were available.

The attention to detail on the clothing and headdress on this impressive pair of blackamoor busts is reminicent of the work of the North Italian sculptor, Santi Casarini. An example of one of his blackamoor busts was exhibited and is illustrated in the Trinity Fine Art Catalogue, op. cit., p. 50, no. 23. The illustrated bust is of a male blackamoor, however, one of the group, a woman, was signed by the sculptor. There are scant details about the sculptor's life and career, but it is known that he was active in Lombard-Veneto towards the end of the 17th century. His skills both as a sculptor and his lively use of coloured marble makes the illustrated bust almost lifelike as are the offered busts.

There is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, illustrated by Pope-Henessey, op. cit., no. 176, fig. 707, a Venetian marble bust of a young male blackamoor in a frock tunic (451-1869), but without a turban and the gilt-bronze frogging, which is an extremely rare feature on the offered busts. The Victoria and Albert Museum example was purchased in Florence (Gagliardi, £60) and was described originally as `end of 17th century (or perhaps considerably later), perhaps Venetian work'. The aforementioned author op. cit., states that the bust seems to date from the first half of the 18th century. 

There is in the Wallace Collection, illustrated by Mann, op. cit., S19 & S20, related busts stated to be Italian, 17th/18th century of an African King and Queen with plumed headdresses.

Another blackamoor bust worth considering is the one in the Saint Louis Museum by Melchior Barthel, Dresden (1625-1672), illustrated by Bacchi op. cit., n. 226. For information on the life of Barthel, see p. 692.  
Related blackamoor busts sold at auction include:
-a similar pair with mother-of-pearl eyes from the collection of the late Ronald Tree was sold at Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 9th October 1976, lot 337.
-a pair of busts, one in a frock tunic with mother-of pearl eyes dated late 17th/early 18th century, sold Sotheby's, Monaco, 5th & 6th February 1978.

The boulle pedestals:
This rare pair of boulle pedestals of tapering form in contre-partie marquetry are similar in conception to the pair, circa 1700, in the Wallace Collection illustrated by Hughes op. cit., p. 721, no 151 (F53 and 54), one of which is in contre-and the other in première-partie boulle marquetry, (see fig. 5). The presence of the stamp of Nicholas Severin (1728-98) would seem to indicate that the pedestals were restored by him as they are too early in date to have been made by him (see post).

Although the Wallace pair have different marquetry which includes the interlaced L's, according to Hughes, op. cit., they are almost certainly not by André-Charles Boulle. The marquetry is different in style to that on pieces which have firmly been attributed to Boulle, as the scrollwork is less luxuriant and the pair in the Wallace have internal strapwork frames within the marquetry of the fronts which are rather uncharacteristic of Boulle. However, both pairs are related in shape to a model of pedestal attributed to Boulle by Alexandre Pradère op. cit., p. 106, catalogued by the author as gaînes droites,  where he also mentions other examples of these square tapering pedestals.

It is also worthwhile considering a  pair of similar although not tapering form, in the Jones collection, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Acc. No. 1025-1882), illustrated by Ronfort, op. cit., p.197, which concealed within their structure a paper with the date 1693. They are stated to be by André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) and of a type nine of which were delivered in 1684 to the Grand Dauphin for his cabinet des Glaces at Versailles. They were described in the inventory of the 1689, under numbers 14,15,16 and 17.

The Jones pair differs from both the Wallace and the offered pair in their shape which is straight rather than tapering and they have a frieze with triglyphs and gilt-bronze masks at the top of the front and side panels and more luxuriant marquetry with scrollwork than on the Wallace and offered pairs, a deeper plinth and a steeper ogee shaped opening at the front and sides. Both the Wallace pair (according to Hughes, op. cit., ) and therefore it follows that the offered pair, must be by an anonymous contemporary of Boulle and although one can see the influence of Boulle in all these gaînes droites their form according to Hughes `derives ultimately from the marble or stone pedestals used to support sculptural busts'.

Pedestals of this rare form are recorded in several 18th century sales where they appear to have been highly sought after including three pairs in the Lambert and M. du Porail sale on 27th March 1787 achieved high prices (3 530 livres),  as did an example offered for sale in the Billy collection in 1784 (lot 174) and the Dubois sale in 1785 (lot 214). Ronfort states, op. cit., p. 196, that this type of pedestal was perhaps repeated during the second half of the 18th century.  

Contre-partie marquetry examples of the same model include:
-a pedestal with c-scrolls on the front, see lot 401, sold on behalf of the Executors of 6th Earl of Rosebery and his family, by Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., at Mentmore, Buckinghamshire, Vol. I, 18th May 1977.
- Ader Picard Tajan, 13th June 1978, lot 89;  and 9th December 1981, lot 314;  and 8th April 1990, lot 136.
-a pair sold by Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 10th July 1981, lot 31.
-Christie's, Monaco, 5th December 1992, lot 128.
-also a variant with similar marquetry to the pair in the Wallace collection but with interlaced L's at the top of the front panel is at Blenheim Palace.
-a pair sold from the Jaime Ortiz-Patiño Collection, Sotheby's, New York, 20th May 1992, lot 54, following the Jones model.

The Rothschilds and Mentmore:

Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874):
He was the fourth and youngest son of Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), who founded N M Rothschild & Sons, the English branch of the celebrated Rothschild banking Empire. After studying at the University of Leipzig and Heidelberg University, Mayer became the first Member of his family to receive an education at an English university, spending time at both Magdalene and Trinity College, Cambridge. He showed scant interest in the banking world of his family and political leanings. He was appointed High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1847 and elected Liberal MP for Hythe in 1859.

Baron Mayer engaged Joseph Paxton `the new Christopher Wren', the creator of Crystal Palace, to build a house at Mentmore in Buckinghamshire. He chose the `Jacobethan style' taking as his model Wollaton Hall outside Nottingham. The house, which was begun in 1852, had a huge central hall, covered entirely with a forty-foot high roof in glass, an innovation in its day. Lady Eastlake, a contemporary, recorded after a visit,  `I do not believe that the Medici ever were so lodged at the height of their glory'. As Sir Francis Watson stated in his introduction to the Mentmore sale catalogue in 1977, `The `sense of glory' confronted the visitor as soon as he entered the hall'.

Mentmore Towers was the most sumptuous of the English Rothschild houses at the time, filled with a dazzling collection of art and objects. It is amusing to read the correspondence between Alexander Barker the dealer who helped furnish Mentmore, and Baron Mayer, which is pasted into a copy of the Mentmore Catalogue of 1883. It gives an indication of the Baron's parsimoniousness:

My dear Baron,
Probably you think that ...I did not want the little that I wrote to you for. Pray always believe me when I tell you that the subject is always too painful to me that I never name it until I am at the last- Perhaps also you fear that the fine objects I bought of Mons. Collot were for you and the amt. may alarm you- if such an idea exists allow me to remove it & tell you they are for a person who can appreciate them -,
and even as much the Barons James & Nathanial,  Lord Hertford etc, all of whom have endeavoured to obtain them but in vain. They are as authentic as they are elegant, and as is well known were made for the marriage presents to Marie Antoinette. What will you say when you hear that these & some Sevres vase bought on the same day from Louis Fouler cost one man 4,000£ `think of that
Master Brook': Though I well know your almost inconceivable tenacity of the precious metals may you send me 500£ I think you will say I have spent yr: money well & though you are so terribly stingy I predict that the pretty things you have bought will some day cause you more satisfaction than any money you ever spent except when you purchased yr: wedding ring (
signed) Barker

Mayer Amschel had refined French taste and was in many respects way ahead of his family who, contrary to popular belief, only really started to collect French 18th furniture and art seriously after 1870. He was also ahead of the market in his buying; a Rembrandt was thrown in by a seller to `make up' a lot and he observed that it was cheaper to buy antique French furniture than go to Maples (the London store ) to furnish Mentmore. The walls of the dining room were lined with Régence boiseries taken from the Paris hôtel de Villars and those at Mentmore are the earliest examples of this type of decoration being adapted for an English country house. Many of his purchases followed the European Revolutions of 1848. Another pasted extract of a letter from Alexander Barker reads as follows:

`The fine collection of precious objects you have, have been obtained in consequence of the disasters of the royal family of France and the misfortune of others connected with them and if not purchased at the time they could never have been obtained and I am sure you well remember how often we have consulted as to how you would like each room decorated.''

Mentmore was not only filled with furniture but Renaissance objets d'art-Limoges enamels, rock crystal objects, paintings, Sèvres porcelain, tapestries and an entire room devoted to amber. His furniture taste encompassed not only French, where he owned stamped pieces by all the best ébénistes, but also Italian, German, Dutch and even Russian furniture, the latter almost unknown in Western Europe at that date. According to  Watson, `There can be no doubt whatever that the art collections at Mentmore were amongst the most outstanding in their kind anywhere in the world'.

Hannah Primrose, Countess of Rosebery (1851-1890):
Hannah was the only child of Mayer Amschel de Rothschild and his cousin Julia Cohen whom he married in 1850, and upon her father's death Hannah's inheritance of  Mentmore with its priceless art collection, his London mansion and innumerable investments together with the sum of over £2,000,000 made her the richest woman in England and a highly desirable catch. She was introduced to her husband Archibald, the 5th Earl of Rosebery by Lady Beaconsfield, the wife of Benjamin Disraeli at Newmarket Racecourse, the Disraelis being close friends and neighbours of the Rothschilds in Buckinghamshire.  Rosebery became a frequent guest at Mentmore, sharing racing, political and also collecting tastes with his hosts.

Rosebery described Hannah to a friend in glowing terms,` very simple, very unspoilt, very clever, very warm-hearted and very shy... I never knew such a  beautiful character'.  They married on 20th March 1878, with the Prince of Wales as guest of honour and Benjamin Disraeli gave the bride away.

Although she was regarded as notably financing her husband's political ambitions, Hannah was more importantly his driving force and prime  motivator. She was a renowned political hostess and philanthropist championing the cause of the poor. Both Hannah and her husband leased Landsdowne House in London, as the latter's political interests increased, where they hosted political salons where authors such as Henry James and Oscar Wilde socialised with the most prominent intellectual and political figures of the day. She became, in a way, one of the first political wives by accompanying her husband on the campaign trail.

Archibald Philip Primrose, (1847-1929), the 5th Earl of Rosebery:

Rosebery was renowned for his charisma, wit and charm and an influential politician who enjoyed great public popularity as well as being extremely widely read and a lifelong bibliophile. 

When his father died he was only three years old and he became heir to the Earldom receiving the courtesy title of Lord Dalmeny. On his grandfather's death, in 1868, he inherited the Earldom with its considerable estates and income of around £30,000. He was in his second year as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford and he abandoned his studies due in no small part to his passion for horseracing, as he refused to give up ownership of his racehorse and undergraduates were prohibited from owning racehorses at that time. The son of Rosebery's tutor at Oxford recalled that,`Lord Rosebery was no idle aristocrat. My father always told me that for an undergraduate, he read specially widely and brought to my father brilliantly and carefully written work...' and had he stayed the course ` would certainly have obtained a brilliant first -class (degree)'.

He was an adventurous traveller and travelled extensively visiting Russia in1868 at the age of twenty-one, spending three months in Italy in 1870, and in the 1870's, he visited America three times and also Australia. He was reputed to have had three ambitions in life: to marry an heiress, win the Derby and become Prime Minister and achieved all three.  

In May 1868, he took his seat in the House of Lords. In 1870 he was elected a member of the Jockey club, and later he went on to win the Derby thrice. His marriage in 1878 to Hannah de Rothschild produced four children and was supremely happy; he never fully recovered from her death from typhoid in 1890 and only reluctantly returned to political life. He had begun collecting as a schoolboy at Eton and he and Hannah added considerably to the collections assembled by his father-in-law at  Mentmore.

Rosebery allied himself to the Liberals in Parliament working with  Gladstone and became Undersecretary of the Home Office in 1881 with special responsibility for Scottish affairs, although he resigned his post in June 1883. He took office as Foreign Secretary in Gladstone's brief third Ministry in 1886 and in August 1892, in Gladstone's fourth and final ministry and became Prime Minister when Gladstone resigned in March 1894.The 5th Earl resigned his position in June 1895 and Gladstone's assessment of him was thus:
` I can say three things of him:
1.   He is one of the ablest men I have ever known
2.   he is of the highest honour and probity
3.   I do not know whether he really has common sense'.

Always the wit, Rosebery declared  in 1899, `There are two supreme pleasures in life-one is ideal, the other real. The ideal is when a man receives the seal of office from his Sovereign, the real pleasure comes when he hands them back' . The Earl suffered a stroke in 1918 and died on 21st May 1929 aged 81 .

His son, Albert Edward Harry Meyer Archibald Primrose, 6th Earl of Rosebery, (1882-1974), lived much of each year in Mentmore. After he died, the Government refused the offer of the House and contents for £2 million and, with death duties at 75%, Sotheby's was instructed to sell the principal contents at auction. The sale held at Mentmore Towers between 18th and 27th May 1977,  broke all previous great house sale records and was termed, `The Sale of the Century', raising more than £6 million.

Nicolas Pierre Séverin (1728-1798), received Master 1757:
He was the son and pupil of the ébéniste privilegé in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Pierre Severin. Nicolas had his workshop at rue Dauphine where he lived until the end of his life. As was the case with makers such as Levasseur, Montigny and Georges Jacob, he was involved in the restoration of a number of Boulle marquetry pieces of furniture which were in the Royal households. It is interesting to note that there are two pedestals stamped by him in the Louvre next to the ones by Levasseur. It is also possible that he also created reproductions of Boulle furniture.

Surviving examples of his work are  rare, although they are known to be of impeccable craftsmanship and generally comprise veneered and marquetry furniture. In particular, there is a Louis XV gilt-bronze-mounted and rosewood bureau plat which was acquired by the Louvre in 1924, a serpentine shaped gilt-bronze and marquetry clock (sold in Paris, 14th May 1909, Nr 44), and a Transitional commode which is decorated with outstanding marquetry, ivory and mother pearl inlaid panels depicting fantasy landscapes with figures and  architectural perspectives and landscapes.