A jewelled gold, silver, enamel and hardstone 'Perlfigur', circle of Johann Heinrich Köhler, Dresden, circa 1720-1730
- A jewelled gold, silver, enamel and hardstone 'Perlfigur', circle of Johann Heinrich Köhler, Dresden, circa 1720-1730
- silver-gilt, enamel, pearl, amber,gemstones
It is evident that the figure was not a new acquisition in 1823 but it is not known exactly when and how the figure entered the Northumberland collections before this. It does not appear in the extensive inventories of her ‘Musaeum’ at Northumberland House drawn up by the 1st Duchess, an avid and knowledgeable collector, in the 1770s, nor does it appear in the 1786 inventory of Northumberland House. Although not in current fashion, as an object of wonder it would appear more to the taste of the 1st Duchess than to that of her successors. She travelled extensively in Europe including to several German courts but there appears to be no record of her acquisitions or gifts received during these trips.
Exhibition catalogue, Kulturstiftung Ruhr, Barock in Dresden, Leipzig, 1986;
Exhibition catalogue, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Splendor of Dresden, New York, 1978;
Syndram/Arnold/Kappel, Das Grüne Gewölbe zu Dresden, Dresden, 1994;
James Grieg ed., Diaries of a Duchess, London, 1926;
Adriano Aymonino, ‘The Musaeum of the 1st Duchess of Northumberland (1716-1776)’, in Bracken/Gáldy/Turpin, Women Patrons and Collectors, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2012;
Anna Maria Renner, Die Kunstinventare der Markgrafen von Baden-Baden, Bühl-Baden, 1941
Given the importance attached by Augustus to these figures (a special cabinet in the treasure chamber was assigned to them), surprisingly little information remains about exactly who made them and where. When they were made is easier to establish since the majority of the figures were acquired by Augustus in the early years of the 18th century and were listed in the 1733 inventory of the treasure chamber, some appearing in earlier inventories of 1706 and 1725. One group was acquired through the dealer Guillaume Verbecq of Frankfurt and purchased at the great fair in Leipzig, further pieces were supplied by Jean Louis Girardet of Berlin and the Dresden goldsmith, Johann Heinrich Köhler, while a third group are of unknown origin but are also assumed to have been manufactured in Dresden. It is now considered likely that the figures in this last group were made in Dresden either in workshops belonging to or linked to Köhler. The Northumberland figure falls into the last group as, although it displays stylistic features derived from all three groups, it fits most comfortably into the last.
A common characteristic is the glossy enamel used on the figures: mainly translucent blue for the coats, translucent or opaque green or turquoise for stockings or trimmings and opaque black or white for further details. Several also have the distinctive fringed gold edging to their enamelled outfits. The halbardier supplied by Verbecq before 1706 (Syndram/Weinhold, no. 9) has sleeves banded with similar stripes of rose diamonds and pearls; dwarfs from Verbecq and Köhler have the same streaky flesh tones in their faces (S/W, 6 & 22); a swan in a group of animals perched on a coral twig (S/W, 50, see below) has feathers painted like those on the goose held by this figure. Many more comparisons to individual figures can be made but perhaps the nearest related figure is that of a Galanteriewarenhändler, a pedlar of precious objects accompanied by his spotted dog (S/W, 47, see below), which appears only in the inventory of 1733. Not only is the figure itself related in spirit and execution but also the stands are decorated with similar applied green-enamelled scrollwork; the blue frame to a mirror in the pedlar’s pack echoes the frames around the Geneva enamels decorating the stand of the present figure. The enamel-based stand of the pedlar is almost a pair to that of a further figure of a halbardier, also with a spotted dog, but of somewhat less refined execution (S/W, 49). This, of course, raises the question as to whether the figures and the stands (which vary enormously in quality and design) were made by the same hands. Most probably they were made by different goldsmiths in the same workshops.
Not only is the exact origin of many of the figures unknown but the iconographical sources used for their production remain surprisingly obscure. Augustus the Strong’s Print Gallery was extremely well-supplied with earlier and contemporary engravings which were available to the Dinglingers and other Dresden goldsmiths. Certain of the dwarfs are directly derived from Callot prints but most of the other figures, such as the present example, do not appear to have direct graphic sources, or at least so far these have not been found. Even the present figure poses questions of interpretation. At first sight it seems simple: this is a cheerful, slightly inebriated peasant, with Martinmas goose in hand, celebrating the end of the vine harvest. But is it that straight-forward? It has been pointed out that the present figure is very well-dressed for a peasant with a smart suit and fashionable hat even to the elegant gold clocks on his stockings; his features are not grotesque and his hands are pale not sun-burnt. It has been suggested that the figure represents a courtier dressed as a peasant, possibly as an allegory of November, at one of Augustus the Strong’s many seasonal feasts held to entertain the court and its visitors. These would involve masques, theatre, opera and processions of courtiers, each with its own costumes. Be that as it may, certainly, as with all these captivating figures, the successful intention behind the creation of the figure was surely to amuse and amaze his audience.
Sotheby's would like to thank Dr Ulrike Weinhold and Rainer Richter of the Grünes Gewölbe, Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, for their generous help in researching this figure.