Lot 13
  • 13

A South German Baroque gilt copper and steel Hapsburg armorial strongbox, probably Nuremberg mid-17th century

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • copper, steel
  • 39cm. high, 57cm. wide, 37cm. deep; 1ft. 3¾in., 1ft. 10½in., 1ft. 2½in.
the exterior elaborately mounted with gilt copper pierced foliate strapwork, the front centred by the Hapsburg imperial double-headed eagle with dummy keyhole, flanked by two engraved shields with cyphers, the lid with keyhole concealed by a spring-released portrait medallion hasp depicting Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, flanked by two engraved armorial shields and further decorated with a lambrequin and cherubs, the inside with an intricate steel lock mechanism shooting 18 bolts and a finely engraved pierced gilt copper cover, the interior with a further locked compartment, above two small drawers with brass plaques depicting allegories of the seasons


With the Margraves Pallavicini by the 19th century;
Probably in the collection of Margrave Alfons Pallavicini at Palais Pallavicini, Budapest;
Until moved to Palais Pallavicini, Vienna, in the mid-20th century;
Thence by descent to the present owner.


A highly ornate strong box in overall good condition. The two heraldic medallions to the top with extensive rubbing to the gilding and to the chasing. The pierced gilded panel to the top has a rare of lifting to the back left which can be secured by a screw. The central profile above the escutcheon lacking one screw, but is secure. The mechanisms of the escutcheon and locking plate are all in very good working condition. There are areas of rusting to the gilded decoration which have probably been re-gilt in the 19th century. The front right leg is lacking one leaf decoration which is present and can be secured. There are minor old marks and dents to the strong box which are commensurate with age and use. Please contact the department on 0207 293 6441 should you want further information and images.
"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

Related Literature:
Martina Pall, Versperrbare Kostbarkeiten, 2006, Graz

This fine and unusual 17th century South German strongbox is an especially distinctive example of its kind. The casket is mounted with pierced and foliate gilded copper plates to the exterior and a further elaborately cast and chased interior panel to the lock plate. Engraved and gilded ornamental mounting does appear on the exterior of other strongboxes from this period, although to a considerably lesser degree. Uniquely in the current lot the gilded ornament extends throughout the lid and sides and gives a three dimensional aesthetic, differing from contemporary examples known to have been produced in the Augsburg and Nuremberg. Interestingly the herm figures to the sides of the strong box appear in other elaborately decorated and important examples. Indeed a strong box in the renowned Schell collection features mermaid supports bearing similar masks and bodies to those on the present lot.

The sheer volume of gilded foliate mounting on the underside of the lid provides perhaps the best point of comparison with contemporary pieces. Its detailed chasing and dual layered design sets it apart from other examples of this period as far more playful and decorative. The strongbox’s interior lock-plate is notably decorated with engravings of two unusual Moorish busts and a grotesque male head; grotesque heads and figures can also be found in the engraved exterior mounts to two caskets in the Hanns Schell collection (M. Pall, op. cit., nos. 25, 48). Further allegorical scenes of the Four Seasons on an interior compartment and a hunting scene discreetly hidden beneath the interior lock-plate lend a light-hearted and highly characterful feel to the casket, indicating that it may have been designed as a gift as opposed to a purely utilitarian commission.

Two prominently placed armorial crests and cyphers provide a strong claim, in combination with the ornate decoration, that the strongbox was made on the occasion of a marriage. The arms of a South German family Haydt de Dorff, can be identified using the armorial archer whilst the other crest possibly alludes to the Daun of Sanem family. Unfortunately, it has yet proved impossible to trace the event at which these families united, however given the inclusion of monogrammed cyphers it would make sense that it was on the occasion of a marriage of two prominent members of each family. The large Imperial double headed eagle of the Holy Roman Emperor to the front of the strongbox indicates an allegiance to the Habsburgs. Further to this, the portrait of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria (1614-1662) appears to the keyhole’s hinged cover atop the casket. Leopold Wilhelm was ruler of the Spanish Netherlands 1646 – 1656 and younger brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III fl. 1636 - 1657. He was a great military commander, serving as a general in the Thirty Years’ War and the Franco-Spanish War. Although he was equally renowned, both during his lifetime and posthumously, for his exceptional art collection, which would eventually form the core collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Numerous pictorial representations of Leopold Wilhelm survive and he most often appears in armour wearing a crucifix as he does in the present strongbox.

The strongbox entered the collection of the noble Pallavicini family in the early 19th century. Although Italian in origin, the Pallavicini family have significant noble Austrian links dating to the early 18th century. The Pallavicinis historically have been a family of prominent ambassadors, diplomats and military leaders in central Europe.  In 1733, the then head of the family, Gianluca Pallavicini, a Genoese diplomat at the Viennese court, joined the Imperial Service eventually becoming a General-Field Marshal and a member of the exceptionally prestigious chivalric Order of the Golden Fleece. The most likely initial recipient of the present lot could be Alfons Pallavicini, who in 1836 was granted the hereditary title Margrave and subsequently purchased the Palais Pallavicini, Vienna in 1842(fig. 1). Alfons completely redesigned the historic building to its present state, a splendid marriage of High Baroque and Classical design. Its simpler more classically-influenced façade made a bold statement on its erection in 1784 given its position in Josefplatz, directly across from the late Baroque Hofburg Palace which includes the magnificent Austrian National Library in Vienna. The Pallavicini’s coat of arms was added upon Alfons’s purchase of the palace in 1842. The Pallavicini crest notably features crowned twin-headed eagles and the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, prominent reminders of the family’s historic links to Austrian nobility and indeed an emblematic link to the Imperial decoration on the present lot. It is highly likely that this Imperial connection was the motivation behind Alfons’s purchase of the strongbox in the early nineteenth century.