Lot 3
  • 3

A jewelled gold, silver, enamel and hardstone 'Perlfigur', circle of Johann Heinrich Köhler, Dresden, circa 1720-1730

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • A jewelled gold, silver, enamel and hardstone 'Perlfigur', circle of Johann Heinrich Köhler, Dresden, circa 1720-1730
  • silver-gilt, enamel, pearl, amber,gemstones
  • 14.2 cm, 5 5/8 in high overall, figure 10.3 cm, 4 1/8 in tall
with jewelled enamel hat and enamelled blue suit, turquoise lining and hose, his plump baroque pearl stomach hitched with a ruby and rose diamond belt, brandishing a spessartine garnet flagon in one hand and an enamelled goose also with pearl middle in the other, on a shaped translucent moss agate ground, the base set with two contemporary rectangular enamel plaques, probably Geneva, circa 1700, one painted with Mars and Venus, the other with Mars and Minerva,  after engravings by Simon Vouet (1590-1649), the blue border within crimson leaves, between applied jewelled and enamelled urns on a green enamelled laurel ground and openwork scrolls, eight button supports, two oval bosses of lapis, probably later added, set onto the sides


The first reference so far found to the figure’s presence in the Northumberland collections occurs in an invoice from the royal goldsmiths Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, dated 14 May 1823.  They had embarked on an extensive programme of renovations to jewellery and plate for the 3rd Duke. On this date he was billed for 9  items sent for ‘cleaning and thoroughly repairing’, at a cost of £5.18.00. Among these were a Garter star, a root of amethyst snuff box and ‘a pearl, gold enamelled, ruby & diamond figure of a Man’ with ‘a glass shade & stand to ditto’. The next day another ‘glass shade to gold enamelled figure’ costing 10/6d, was added to the account, possibly in error. The figure was recorded in London at Northumberland House in 1847 (‘A splendid enamelled on Gold  “Figure of a man with a pearl Goose on a pedestal profusely studded with precious stones” ‘, Sy.H.VIII.1.b Inventory of the Effects at Northumberland House, London, 1847, p.75, in the Drawing Room, Glazed Cabinet No.1). The cabinet was one of a pair of display cabinets supplied to the 3rdDuke by Morel and Hughes at around the same time that the figure was being cleaned and repaired.


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.


Dirk Syndram / Ulrike Weinhold, exhibition catalogue, “…und ein Leib von Perl”, die Sammlung der barocken Perlfiguren im Grünen Gewölbe, Dresden, 2000;
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


It is not known what cosmetic work was performed by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell in 1823 but it cannot have been very extensive. The figure and stand are in remarkably good condition although there are a number of enamel losses. There are firing problems to the flesh portions; scraping on both hands and shards reglued to the left hand; the right hand has been re-attached. The pink enamel is scraped above his pearl stomach and there are further small scrapes to the left front breeches and larger losses on the front of the stockings. The figure has been examined under UV light and there has been no restoration to the enamels other than that previously mentioned on the left hand. There are minor losses to the translucent enamels on the stand. The two side panels have been replaced by lapis lazuli bosses. The two enamel panels on front and back, probably of Geneva origin, seem original to the design. It is evident that there were initially two oval panels on the sides possibly containing cameos which cracked or, it has been suggested, more probably, patterned blue enamel panels. Two figures in the Grünes Gewölbe were originally set with these blue enamel panels which over time proved unstable and have decayed. Furthermore, the dark blue ground colour of these enamels might have suggested to a restorer their replacement by something of similar colour.
"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

The magnificent collection of ‘Perlfiguren’ acquired by Augustus the Strong (1670-1733) for his newly-created treasure chambers in the Green Vaults in Dresden is well-known. He is known to have owned some 57 pieces and all manner of creatures were there: fish and fowl, real and mythological beasts, and of course human beings from cheerful dwarfs to giant halbardiers, from grotesque beggars to respectable merchants. There are biblical and classical figures, Moors, Commedia dell’Arte characters, tradesmen and soldiers, a microcosm of the many influences swirling around the Saxon court at the time. As with Renaissance jewellery based on pearls, each individual character was initially inspired by the shape of the baroque pearls used in its creation, pearls forming pairs of trousers or a camel’s hump or as in this case, a rounded stomach. The pearls were artfully combined with jewels, hardstones and colourfully-enamelled gold and silver to create a novel category of precious objects known as Galanteriewaren intended to delight and amuse. As the figures were only to be afforded by the very wealthiest purchasers, they were only to be found in imperial, royal or princely Kunstkammern. A second large collection of 13 figures was acquired by Sibylle Auguste, Margrävin of Baden-Baden and listed in her 1733 inventory; further figures are to be found in the treasure chambers of Vienna, Munich, St Petersburg, Copenhagen and Florence. A very few are in museums such as the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore and, as far as is known, almost none are now in private hands.

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.