Lot 1
  • 1

A Charles II silk embroidered casket, English, third quarter 17th century

5,000 - 7,000 GBP
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  • silk, metal-thread, beads, sequins, wood casket
  • approximately 25.5cm. high, 28.5cm. wide, 9.5cm. deep; 10in., 11in.,3½in.
worked in polychrome silks depicting panels from the Old Testament story of Esther and Ahasuerus (Book of Esther: 1-10), the front of the lid initialled with MC in silver-metal thread, the two doors opening to reveal, three small drawers a long drawer, a lid with an internal square mirrored recess, two compartments with glass containers, and ink and sand recesses with lids, with metal side handles and escutcheons, on four bun feet;


Sir Robert Howel Vaughan (1724-1792), 1st Baronet, Nannau
Vaughan Family Estate (Hengwrt, Nannau and Rug, Merionethshire, North Wales), auction 1958 (see fig. 1. Black and white photograph of piece in auction view).
Purchased by present owner


The embroidered threads and lacking and loose in areas overall, especially the front panels. The panel with the most remaining silk threads is the reverse panel. There is under drawing visible in large areas, and some of that is later, to complete the drawing and sense of balance to the compositions. The silver thread highlights (to initials and to highlights on the top panel) are tarnished as commensurate with age. The casket has a later velvet lined interior. The silk ribbons attaching the inside of the lid to the top of the casket are later and one is broken, and the lid will not remain open just with the single ribbon support. There are two small glass bottles. Interesting historical piece. Condition distressed generally.
"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

Within the areas of textile production, it was embroidery that remained domestically produced. It was a task considered appropriate for the home, and was undertaken by women of all levels of society, from daughters of professional families to aristocratic women including Bess of Hardwick. The techniques were learnt by completing samplers and developed on to more elaborate pieces used for clothing and as decoration for luxury items, the skills to be admired and the subject matters serving as moral lessons. Subjects being naturalistic, pastoral and often being biblical, and at this time of political and religious upheaval, and loyalties were implied through the inclusion of particular figures. Several included crowned figures of Kings and Queens, representing Charles I or Charles II and Henrietta Maria or Catherine of Braganza. Paradoxically these embroidered panels depicted Biblical subjects, which at this this time aroused controversy. The top panel of this offered box depicts Esther and Ahasuerus (Book of Esther: 1-10), and the other panels relate to the story of Esther.

The scene of the kneeling Esther before the enthroned Ahaseurus is derived from an engraving after a design by Maarten van Heemskerck, published in Gerard de Jode’s Thesaurus Historiarum Sacrarum Veteris Testamenti, Antwerp, 1579, which was a very popular source for many embroidered subjects.  

For an example of a narrative panel depicting all the scenes from the Book of Esther, dated 1654, with maker’s initials AH, see Mary M Brooks, English Embroideries of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, in the Collection of the Ashmolean Museum, London, 2004, No.11,pp.52-54 (Ashmolean Museum: WA 1947.191.309). The subject represents the story of the brave, yet obedient Queen, who spoke out on behalf of her people, and this could have been a subject chosen to make a religious or political point, and therefore supporting either establishment or minority viewpoints. 

For detailed discussion of the social context of embroidered Biblical narratives and the specific relevance of Esther in the Civil War politics, see Andrew Morrall and Melinda Watt, English Embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580-1700, `Twixt Art and Nature’, Yale University Press, 2009, Chp.4, Ruth Geuter, pp.57-77. For illustrated comparable examples in the style and quality of drawing of the present cabinet, depicting Biblical subjects, with internal small and long drawers, a recess for a mirror, compartments for two glass containers, ink and sand recesses with lids, see cat.no. 52. pp.208-212, cat.no.67. pp.245-246, and specifically cat.no.70. pp.251-253, for an example with depicts the same subjects from the Book of Esther on the front and reverse as the present cabinet.

Lanto Synge, Art of Embroidery, History of Style and Technique, The Royal School of Needlework, London, 2001, Chapter Five, The Seventeenth Century, pp.110-159, Embroidered Pictures and Stumpwork, pp.131-143, discusses the technique, manufacture and subject matter of these panels, illustrating examples of which were used used on mirrors or made up into the caskets. A similarly conceived but deeper casket than the offered example, with mirrored and braided lid, and casket with an internal square recess (for a mirror), and compartments for two glass containers, and ink and sand recesses with lids see Sotheby’s, London, 21st March 2003,  lot 27.

Fig. 1. Casket on view at preview of auction, Vaughan Family Estate (Hengwrt, Nannau and Rug, Merionethshire, North Wales), 1958