Lot 10
  • 10

A Swiss parcel-gilt silver drinking cup in the form of a Lark, Nicholas Matthey, Neuchâtel, late 17th century

200,000 - 250,000 GBP
433,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Silver
naturalistically modelled, detachable head, raised on a tapered circular base, embossed with acanthus leaves, scrolling foliage and birds, the base embossed with the Lerber family coat-of-arms


Probably commissioned by Johann Rudolf Lerber the elder (1659-1731) or Franz Ludwig Lerber (1648-1720)
Presented by Johann Rudolf Lerber the younger (1692-1766) to the Weavers' Guild of Berne 25 February 1745
Mentioned in the Weavers' Guild Bechertafel (inventory of sold items) 1767
Most probably bought back from the Weavers in 1767 by Sigmund Ludwig Lerber (1723-1783)
Descended in Sigmund Ludwig Lerber's family to at least 1875
Sold, Die Sammlung Frau Emma Budge, Hamburg, Paul Graupe, Berlin, 4-6 October, 1937 lot 249 (for RM 1,500)
Purchased in 1937 by the Swiss National Museum and exhibited until 2012
2012 Restituted to the Budge Estate by the Swiss National Museum


Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Neuchâtel (Switzerland) 20 June-28 November 1993, no. 84.


Karl Ludwig von Lerber, Geschichtliche Belege ueber das Geschlecht von Lerow, Lerower, Lerwer, Lerber, Berne, 1873, p. 266
Arnold Streit, Album historisch-heraldischer Alterthümer und Baudenkmale der Stadt Bern und Umgegeng, Berne, 1858-62, vol 2, Taf. XLII
Fritz Gysin, Drei Goldschmiedearbeiten, 46. Jahresbericht des Schweizerischen Landesmuseums in Zürich (1937), Zurich 1938, pp. 93-95, illus. 32.
Leon Montardon, L'orfèvre Nicolas Matthey, MN, 1938 pp. 177-178, illus
Alain Gruber, Weltliches Silber, Zurich, 1977, no. 260, p. 177.  
Alain Gruber, L'orfèvrerie civile en Suisse romande, Trésors de l'Artisanat en Suisse Romande, Lausanne, 1979, p. 112.
Anna Rapp et al. Patrimonie Culturel de la Suisse, Joyaux du Musée National Suisse, Zurich/Munich, 1980, no. 75.
Catherine Jobin, L'Orfèvre neuchâtelois, NICOLAS MATTHEY (vers 1646-1723), mémoire de License, Université de Fribourg, 1985.
Robert L. Wyss, Handwerkskunst in Gold und Silber. Das Silbergeschirr der bernischen Zünfte, Gesellschaften und burgerlichen Vereingungen, Bern 1996, pp. 153-154.
Hans Peter Lanz, Vogelestalten als Trinkgefaesse. Der Blarer-Hahn und die Lerber-Lerche im Schweizerischen Landesmuseum in Zürich, Kunst und Antiquitaeten 7/8-1992, pp. 17-19.

Catalogue Note

This ancestral drinking cup of the von Lerber family is in the form of a skylark, a charge of the family coat-of-arms which is emblazoned in full on the cup's base (see Fig.1). Although it is not known for certain which member of the family commissioned the piece, it must have been a descendent of either Daniel von Lerber (1569-1648) or his brother, Hans Rudolf (1582-1645). When catalogued by the director of the Swiss National Museum in 1938, the cup was thought to have been commissioned by the grandson of the former, also called Daniel (1624-1684). This theory was modified by Catherin Jobin in her thesis on the skylark's creator Nicolas Matthey (circa 1646-1723), who suggested that Daniel von Lerber's son Franz Ludwig (1648-1721) originally ordered the skylark, on the grounds that it could not have been made before 1684 when Daniel was dead1.

Due to a subsequent discovery, what is certain is that in 1745 the skylark was presented to the Weavers' Guild in Berne by Daniel and Franz Ludwig's cousin, Johann Rudolf the younger (1692-1766). It was customary when joining a guild in Berne, which by the late 17th Century had become governing clubs for the ruling elite as much as trade associations, for new members to endow their guild with a piece of silver. Intended to be drunk from at guild festivities, these valuable gifts could also be converted into cash in times of crisis.

In 1745 The Weavers' Guildbook, records the presentation of the skylark cup by a 'General Commissarriij Lerbers', later identified as Johann  Rudolf (1692-1766) when he introduced his kinsman Sigmund Ludwig (1723-1783) as a new member of the guild2:

'den 25 feb(ruar)ij 1745 ist bey Annemung Herrn Sigmund Lerbers von Meinen Gnädigen Herren General Commissarriij Lerbers ein Bächer in form einer silbernen Lerch verehrt worden'3

One explanation for this unusual transaction is that Johann Rudolf had no children while Sigmund had lost both father and grandfather by the time he was ten. As Johann Rudolf appears to be the giver of the skylark, its commissioner is as likely to be one of his direct forebears, as one of Sigmund Ludwig's.  The former's uncle Johann Jakob (1657-1725), married in 1680 Maria Matthey presenting a tentative connection with the skylark's creator the goldsmith Nicholas Matthey. On the other hand, Sigmund Ludwig's grandfather, Franz Ludwig I (1648-1720) had the means to commission the skylark; not only was he also a member of the Weavers' Guild but he was a director in 1707 of the lucrative Roche salt mines4. Only Sigmund of his generation in the von Lerber family had any issue: Franz Rudolf (1757-1822), Vinzenz Hieronymus (b. 1759) and Rudolf Emanuel (d. 1794) and it is through his first-born that the cup ultimately descended.

In 1767 the Weavers' Guild sold many of its treasures. One of the conditions of such sales was that donors would be given the opportunity of buying them. It seems likely that Sigmund Ludwig, by then a prominent and influential Bernese lawyer, took advantage of this condition and took possession of the von Lerber skylark. On the 12 March 1875 it was his great great grandchildren, the children of Franz Gustav (1827-1887) Frantz, Conrad, Arnold; and of Karl Ludwig von Lerber (1830-1896) Agnes, Ellen, Hilda, Walter and Margarita, who scratched their names on its underside.

The publication between 1858 and 1862 by Arnold Streit of the Album Historisch-Heraldischer Alterthümer und Baudenkmale der Stadt Bern und Umgegend, which included illustrations and descriptions of notable items from Berne and the area under its control (a large part of French-speaking Switzerland), alerted a wider public to the existence of guild and private treasures (see Fig. 2). This coincided with the growing demand for antique German works of art by such collectors as Baron Meyer de Rothschild. In 1860 he purchased another figural cup by Nicolas Matthey, the Society of Archers's owl cup, which is still in his family collection (see Fig. 3).

It is believed that the skylark cup left the von Lerber family following the death of Karl Ludwig in 1896; not only was he a collector of note but he was also the only private owner who contributed to the exhibit of antique silver from Berne guilds shown at the Vienna International Exhibition of 1873.

The next owners were Henry (Heinrich) Budge (1840-1927) and his wife, Emma (née Lazarus) (1852-1937). They were married in Hamburg in 1879 and subsequently moved to New York where for more than 20 years Mr Budge was connected with J.P. Morgan, Hallgarten & Co and other companies involved in building the United States' railways infrastructure. The couple returned to Hamburg in 1903 and settled in a mansion on Harvestehude Weg known as Budge-Palais, where Mrs  Budge amassed an impressive collection of porcelain, especially German of the 18th Century, silver, textiles, bronzes, majolica, furniture, miniatures, snuff boxes and other works of art. Following her death in 1937 the collection was sold at auction, which included the skylark cup, purchased by the Swiss National Museum in whose possession it remained until this year.

A number of public institutions, including the Swiss National Museum, have recognized that the Emma Budge collection was sold under duress by the Nazi regime and have generously returned the property to the Budge estate.

The reason that a Neuchatel goldsmith rather than one from Berne was chosen to make the skylark is open to guesswork. Neuchatel was also a Protestant city so there would have been no religious constraint to this happening; it may simply have been that Matthey was the pre-eminent local sculptor for this kind of highly skilled work.  He was commissioned to make such models for Bernese societies other than the Weavers.  An example being the previoulsy mentionned Owl cup commissioned by a minister of the Dutch king of England, William III and given as a sweetner to the influential Bernese society the Äussere Stand around 1690. The same society also received a Lion cup similarly on behalf of William III around the same time.5  Although this Lion cup has the mark of the Bernese goldsmith Emanuel Jenner, it is possible that Matthey was actually the sculptor of both pieces, Emanuel  Jenner marking as guarantor of the precious metal not as goldsmith fabricant.  This was probably the case with another cup of the Weavers' Guild, made around 1711 in the form of a griffin, the guild emblem.6 The griffin has the mark of two goldsmiths; Nicolas Matthey, its accepted sculptor goldsmith and the Bernese citizen Bernard Bourgeois who took the commission and acted as intermediary with the guild.
There is no doubt that cups in the form of animals or beasts such as these were actually used to drink from at guild ceremonies. The Society of Archers in Berne had bought the Owl and Lion cups from the Aussere Stand in 1801. On the 5 May at the dinner following the annual shooting competition , having crowned the winning archer who was referred to as `Your Majesty' for the evening the members sat down to dinner at a table dressed with the newly acquired silver and (in translation)

`joyously the cups of fine wine made the rounds. Of the many toasts, one in particular is remembered. It was proposed to England, that nation of faith and belief...singing and clanging of cups resounded till midnight when we left for home...as best we could. Governor Graf emptied the King William (as the lion cup was known) nine times and Carl von Graffenried von Burgenstein drained his minister, as we call the Owl, in one go'.7


Sotheby's is very grateful to David Wille for his help in cataloguing this lot.



1 C. Jobins asserts that the skylark cup bears Nicolas Matthey's second maker's mark which he used from 1695.

2 R. Wyss, op. cit. Proof that the skylark cup recorded in this quotation is the same as that now offered for sale is confirmed by the Weavers' Guild account of 1758, where the cup is recorded as weighing 41 lots. This is equivalent to 599.25grams, a difference from its current weight of only 9 grams. (It should be noted that weights in Berne at that time were based on the Cologne system where one lot weighed 14.616 grams).

3 on the 25th of February 1745 Mr. Sigmund Lerber's introduction was honoured with a beaker / cup in form of a silver lark from milords General Commissarriij Lerbers"

4 Such mines were capable of generating great wealth, as evinced by the success of Martin Zobel, an Augsburg merchant who in 1583 gave to the city of Berne a silver basin with verre fixe armorials in gratitude for the lease he was granted on the Aelen salt mines. This basin is now one of the greatest treasures of the Historisches Museum, Berne.

5 Sotheby's London, 11 February 1999, lot 41.

6 R. Wyss, op. cit., p. 151-152.

7 Manuel III of the Bogenschützengesellschaft, 1801, p. 117.