Lot 31
  • 31

An agate-mounted mother-of-pearl, brass and pewter inlaid tortoiseshell première-partie boulle marquetry and ebony large jewellery casket, probably Antwerp and by Henry van Soest (1659-1726) early 18th century

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
43,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • agate, mother-of-pearl, brass, pewter, tortoiseshell, ebony, rosewood
with a rectangular brass banded lid inlaid with strapwork, scrolling foliage and flowers centred by an agate rectangle with an oval raised cabochon, with oval agates at the angles flanking further raised cabochons opening to reveal the inside of the lid with a rectangular mirror, a cerise silk and gold thread quilt lined interior with a trelliswork design with silver ribbon braid with a hinged flap decorated with the Coronet of a French Count above interlaced initials flanked by entwined branches and serpents revealing a recess with three rosewood and oak short drawers and a further rosewood and oak long drawer surmounted by a rectangular tray shaped section with various compartments and a flap opening to reveal two further rosewood veneered and oak drawers, the three sides further decorated with boulle work and with oval bosses with agates, the front with a rectangular agate panel, the back in boulle marquetry on an ebony veneered ground, on bracket feet

Catalogue Note

Comparative Literature:
Francs Dufour, Belgische Meubelkunst in Europa, Vlaams en Waals Vakmanshap over de Grenzen Heen, Roeselare, p. 212.
Jane Roberts, ed., Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee celebration, The Royal Collection, 2002, pp. 172-174, no. 97.
Renate Eikelmann, Prunkmöbel am Münchner Barocker Dekor unter der Lupe, Exhibition Catalogue Bayerischers Nationalmuseum, Munich, 8th April-31st July 2011, pp. 84-85, Kat. Nrs. 18, 20.
Ria Fabri, Meubles d’apparat des Pays-Bas méridionaux XVIe-XVIIIe siècle, Exhibition catalogue, 19th January -21st March 1989, Brussels, pp. 18.
Brigitte Kanger et. al., Die Möbel der Residenz München, Die deutschen Möbel des 16.bis 18. Jahrhunderts, Munich,1996, Vol. II, pp. 95-100, no. 11.

This unusually large casket inlaid with mother-of pearl, brass and pewter première-partie boulle marquetry on a tortoiseshell ground is further enhanced by being mounted with oval and pear shaped agates with a large rectangular agate in the centre of the top. This casket with its beautiful original cerise silk and gold thread quilt lined interior decorated with the Coronet of a French Count must have been a costly commission as it incorporates the most exotic and expensive materials.

This type of boulle marquetry on the exterior of the casket was traditionally seen as originating from France, however, the technique was used in other centres in the Low Countries and the German States. The boulle metal marquetry technique is mostly associated with the celebrated Parisian cabinet-maker André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732), although this method of decorating furniture and works of art was not invented by him, he was one of the most famous exponents in his day which led to his name being synonymous with this type of marquetry. However, both the style of the marquetry and the use of mother of pearl and agates would seem to indicate an Antwerp origin and due to the virtuosity of the marquetry technique was probably made in the workshop of Henry van Soest (1659-1726).

The most closely related example to this casket in terms of design and materials employed is an Antwerp boulle marquetry writing cabinet in the Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in brass, copper, pewter and tortoiseshell mounted with agate and jasper oval, pear and rectangular shaped reserves, which is dated to around 1700 and attributed to Henry van Soest (1659-1726), the Flemish cabinet-maker, and is illustrated by Roberts, op. cit., p. 172, no. 97. It was originally acquired by George IV in 1828 from E. H. Baldock, the well known dealer and restorer, in May 1828. It had previously belonged to the Earl of Onslow at Clandon Park, and for many years it had been in the State bedroom there. When George IV acquired it, it was considered `parade’ furniture’ of the kind made fashionable by Louis XIV and Roberts states op. cit., `The grandeur and style of the decoration (then considered to be French) no doubt appealed to the King and he originally intended it for Windsor Castle’. The pediment has an oval agate and the drawer below an oval and a rectangular agate mount within a scrollwork boss conceived in a similar vein to those upon the offered casket. Although the boulle marquetry on the drawers of the Royal cabinet appear to be of stiffer design than on the casket, the scrolls and acanthus on the central door and backboard are similar in style. On the reverse of the casket, the style of the marquetry with scrolling acanthus centred by a quatrefoil composed of acanthus leaves can be seen throughout the cabinet. In addition, the design on the central door of the cabinet, mirrors in some respects the design on the top of this casket.

The reason for the attribution of the aforementioned cabinet in the Royal Collection was based upon a group of Flemish boulle secrétaire-cabinets which are usually attributed to the Antwerp workshop of Henry van Soest. One of the most elaborate of these, a desk made for the Elector Max Emanuel II of Bavaria (1662-1726), now in the Munich Residenz, shares with the cabinet the same general form (raised back, enclosed writing surface supported on giltwood legs and elaborately shaped base) and a similar technique of decoration. However, it is approximately half the size and does not use hardstones, and is illustrated by Langer, op. cit., p. 99, no. 11.

It is also worthwhile comparing a small Flemish tortoiseshell and ebony cabinet, circa 1670, mounted with semi-precious stones such as agates, jaspers and chalcedony, onyx and lapis lazuli, illustrated by Fabri, op. cit., p.154, no.18, where the author states that furniture decorated with agates and also pietre dure constituted a particularly highly prized type of furniture.

Furthermore, cabinet-makers in German speaking regions also produced boulle marquetry and were inspired by the circulation of prints from abroad. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Augsburg became a centre for engraving and engravings after Jean Berain were done `à la goût moderne' by Paul Decker (1677-1713), Jonas Drentwett and Johann Jakob Biller (d. 1723). The Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian II Emanuel developed a liking for French taste and upon returning to his own court in Munich in 1715, he set out to gather the finest craftsmen of the German speaking world at his court. Very few of them are recorded by name which makes research into the furniture of the Bavarian court extremely difficult. However, due to recent discoveries by the Bavarian National Museum and the scholar Dr. Max Tillmann, Johann Puchwiser( (1680-1744) stands out especially. It is believed that Puchwiser was the only cabinet-maker at the time who possessed the capabilities to execute boulle marquetry to a high level in Munich, which leads to the assumption that many more pieces unidentified to this date are also by his hand. It is during this period of exile that he would have been accustomed to making furniture in the Austrian taste as he was completely reliant on the Viennese court for commissions. It is also possible that he underwent some training at the Viennese court during this period. See for example a boulle marquetry casket by Puchwiser, circa 1702,  illustrated by by Eikelmann, op. cit., p.93, no. 21.

Finally, Boulle marquetry was also produced in Vienna, see for example a Viennese  lapis lazuli, jasper and agate–mounted cabinet on a tortoiseshell ground, circa 1700,  illustrated  by Eikelmann, op. cit., p. 85, no. 18, now in the Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague.                                                    

Henry van Soest (1659-1726):
He is considered to be the last great representative of the merchant-cabinet-makers in Antwerp succeeding the Forchoudt and the Musson dynasties in Antwerp's great tradition of marquetry furniture which was celebrated throughout Europe. He never reached the same degree of notoriety as his prestigious predecessors, probably due to the political instability which threatened trade in Antwerp at the end of the 17th century when Austria took over the Spanish dominated Flanders.The most celebrated of his production is a writing desk made for Max Emmanuel, Elector of Bavaria, which was formerly in Schloss Schliessheim and is now in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich. He also made pieces for Philippe V, King of Spain, including the cabinet with his coat of arms, executed in 1713 and sold in these Rooms, The Art of Flanders, 30th October 2002, lot 75.