PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE GERMAN COLLECTION
As depicted in Jean-Marc Nattier's painting of Madame Marsollier and her daughter in Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 1), this type of casket placed on a dressing table was used to store articles necessary for a woman's toilette, a performative ritual 'devoted to grooming and beautification' . Coming in two sizes, the large caskets, as the present one, usually contained pincushions and brushes while the smaller boxes stored ribbons, feathers and other trinkets. As Kwiatkowska reminds us, their rarity and refinement indicate that these caskets were masterpieces of the best French ébénistes.
There are solely a dozen examples surviving of these caskets, three of which were in the past in the collection of the Dukes of Hamilton. Other examples are now conserved in the J. Paul Getty Museum (inv. no. 88.DA.111) (fig. 2), in the Jones collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (inv. no. 1053:1-1882) and in the The Wilanów Collection, which houses a rare toilet set comprising a mirror and four caskets previously owned by the Queen of Poland, Maria Kazimiera de La Grange d’Arquien. Given its quality, design and measurements, the present casket bears more similarities with the one at the Getty Museum. It is highly possible that they were created in the same skilled workshop.
Other caskets, now in private collections, have been sold at:
- Christie's London, The Wildenstein Collection, 14 December 2005, lot 14 (£66,000)
- Sotheby's New York, Property from the Collections of Lily & Edmond J. Safra, 19 October 2011, lot 708 ($182,500), 709 ($194,500), 710 ($170,500) and 711 ($134,500)
- Sotheby's Paris, Les Dillée: une dynastie d’experts et de collectionneurs, 18 March 2015, lot 4 (EUR 123,000); previously in the collection of the 12th Duke of Hamilton.
While the decorations of these caskets differ from one to another, their decoration derives from a cycle of paintings on The History of Venus by the Italian painter Francesco Albani (1578-1660). Albani, one of the greatest painters of the Bolognese School, was first commissioned the paintings in 1615-1618 by Prince Borghese. Due to their fame and style much admired across Europe, the same paintings were commissioned a second time in 1621 by Ferdinando Gonzaga, whose set was later purchased by Louis XIV in 1685, set which served as model for these caskets decoration.
The lid of the present casket follows Les Amours Désarmés (Musée du Louvre, Paris Inv.nr. 11), illustrating the story of the goddess of love whose triumph is jeopardized by her rival, Diana, the goddess of the hunt (fig. 3). In the hope to defeat her opponent, Venus orders her nymphs to approach Diana's sleeping cupids and steal their weapons, clip their wings to prevent them from flying. The scenes across the sides are inspired from groups of cupids found across the four paintings. Much like the paintings, the maker of this casket achieved to translate the painted details into marquetry, aided by a range of materials creating shades and optical illusions to imitate nature.
 Kwiatkowska, A. The Wilanów Collection: The Toilet Set of Queen Maria Kazimiera. Wilanowie, 2013, p.7.
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