Lot 6
  • 6

Southern German, 17th century

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • 'Contrefait'
  • partially polychromed turned ivory
  • Southern German, 17th century
with a painted miniature portrait of a nobleman on the interior of the central orb


Anthony Embden, Paris, 1990


Brussels, Musée Maison d'Erasme, Anatomie des Vanités, 2008


A. Vanautgaerden (ed.), Anatomie des Vanités, exh. cat., Musée Maison d'Erasme, Brussels, 2008, p. 92

Catalogue Note

Perhaps the highest accomplishment of the art of turning ivory are the hollow spheres containing internally-turned capsules and nesting spheres known as contrefait.  These were among the most difficult forms in the turner's repertoire, with almost eggshell-thin ivory walls and complex forms turned within through a small aperture. The attempt to understand the technique by which these spheres are created is baffling to the viewer, and in this astonishment lies their intellectual appeal.

The practice required a highly sophisticated and perfectly calibrated lathe operated by a master turner. The earliest known example is a sphere turned by Giovanni Ambrogio Maggiore of Milan in 1582 now preserved in the Museo degli Argenti in Florence (Schmidt and Sfameli, op. cit., pp. 112-113, cat. no. 17). Egidius Lobenigk of Dresden was another innovator of the form, and in the Grünes Gewölbe there are four signed spheres of the early 17th century by Georg Friedel (Syndram and Scherner, op. cit., 2004, p. 197, no. 91). 

The present contrefait features an internally-turned circular box with thin bars pierced through either side of the sphere: this mechanism allows the viewer to open and close the internal compartment in which is contained a tiny portrait. An engraving accompanying Doppelmayer's Historisches Nachricht of 1730 describes a contrefait of similar form with the same internal circular hinged box and opening mechanism by Lorenz Zick (Maurice, op. cit., p. 111, no. 119). Another of very similar form, containing a portrait of Empress Maria Theresia, is in the Kremsmünster monastery collection (Philippovich, op. cit., p. 417, no. 368). 

E. v. Philippovich, Elfenbein, Munich, 1982 (rev. ed.); K. Maurice, Der drechselnde Souverän, Zurich, 1985; Joseph Connors, "Ars Tornandi: Baroque Architecture and the Lathe," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, LIII, 1990, pp. 217-36; E. Schmidt and Maria Sfameli (eds.), Diafane Passioni Avori barocchi dalle corti europee, Florence, 2013, cat. no. 17 ; D. Syndram and A. Scherner (eds.) Princely Splendour: the Dresden Court, 1580-1620, Dresden, 2004, p. 197, no. 91