Charles Louis Wagner (1799-1841) was a key figure in reviving old goldsmith and silversmiths’ techniques. The son of Johann (Jean) Adam Wagner of Berlin, jeweller to the Prussian court (see note on lot 798), was apprenticed to his father and learned distinctive techniques of working metal surfaces which contributed to his success after moving to Paris in the 1820s. Wagner was very keen on reviving old techniques, notably niello, repoussé silver, and enamelling, and he is seen as one of the trailblazers for Historismus designs. In 1822 the firm had first registered a patent for fine machine stamping of metal for niellowork. Wagner also significantly benefited from connections made in Berlin, such as with the Prussian statesmen Christian Peter Beuth, who was one of the main movers in Prussia's industrial renewal. In his function as president of the trade association, Beuth promoted technological and industrial innovations in the arts and had a strong interest in lost techniques, as demonstrated by his purchases of artworks for his private art collection and for the Gewerbeinstitut in Berlin. When Wagner’s Prussian patent for stamped silver expired in 1828, his relocation to Paris brought him huge success, mainly due to the great demand for stamped metal for ‘tabatières russes’, niello snuff boxes in Russian taste, for which he registered a French patent in 1829. It was this technique, as well as the niello work in medieval manuscripts and Renaissance niello, particularly seen in the work of Benvenuto Cellini and Maso Finiguerra, that Beuth discussed in his essay ‘Über das Niello und das Niellieren’ (‘About niello and nielloing’) in the 1824 yearbook of the trade association.
The gold coin centring the bowl of the tazza in the present lot bears the portrait of the Italian renaissance niellist and goldsmith Maso Finiguerra (1426–1464), referring to both the appreciation of the medieval niello technique, as well as its 19th century revival, initiated by new niello techniques. The invention of using steel matrices stamping the designs onto the metal, rather than hand-engraving, allowed the production of a larger number of objects and led to sharper outlines of the design, which granted Wagner and his new business partner, the stone cutter Augustin-Médard Mention, a gold medal in 1832.
An almost identical niello tazza by Carl Wagner from the private collection of Christian Peter Wilhelm Beuth was mentioned in a letter from Beuth to Wagner, dated 1837, and is now located in the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin (inv. no. 1975.35), see Silke Hellmuth, Jules Wièse und sein Atelier, Berlin, 2014, p.36). In the same year, Wagner had also won another gold medal for the mechanically-engraved objects of finest quality which he displayed at the Exhibition of Industrial Art in Paris.