A German rococo gilt-brass mounted japanned travelling writing box attributed to the workshop of Martin Schnell, Dresden, circa 1730
- Gilt-brass, oak
Her brother Karl Philipp, Reichsgraf von Harrach (1800-1878);
By family descent to the present owners.
M. Kopplin and G. Haase, exh. cat.,"Sächssisch Lacquirte Sachen", Lackhurst in Dresden unter August dem Starken, Münster 1999;
H. Kreisel, Die Kunst des deutschen Möbels, II, Munich, 1970, p. 43, ill. 43.
Martin Schnell (c. 1675-1740) is considered the most important lacquerer active at the Court of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. It is thought that Schnell became an apprentice at the Berlin workshop of Gérard Dagly in 1703, before opening his own atelier in Dresden in 1710. His repertoire soon came to include interiors as well as tables, cabinets, chairs, vases and musical instruments. Active for the king, but also for the affluent aristocracy, he had a key role in the decoration of the Japanese Palace and in 1723-29 was employed for the rooms of the Grünes Gewölbe.
The flat painted and lacquered surface of the present box, betraying a European take on ‘East Asian art’, calls to mind other works by Martin Schnell, often characterised by a red-lacquered ground, see for example the pair of gilt-bronze mounted vases, c. 1727, illustrated in Kopplin, op. cit., cat. 8, pp. 40-41, and a games table attributed to Schnell in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, inv. no. 37 323, ill. in idem, cat. 12, p. 45.
The singular mounts, already embracing the rococo spirit, may be compared with those on a lacquered bureau cabinet ill. in Kopplin, op. cit., cat. 26, pp. 66-67 and now in the Victoria & Albert museum (inv. no. W.62:1-1979), as further proof of the great creative gift of Dresdener bronziers.
Intriguingly, a similar singular gilt-bronze key escutcheon appears on a contemporary lacca povera cabinet on stand formerly at Schloss Moritzburg, near Dresden, which was being remodelled by Augustus between 1723 and 1733 (cf. Kreisel, op. cit., p. 43).
Although only a conjecture, it is tempting to regard this box as having been acquired – or possibly gifted – to the Prussian kings at some point in history, and to have thus entered the collection of the comital Harrach family, one of the most prominent of the Habsburg Empire, through the morganatic marriage of Auguste von Harrach (1800-1873) to King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia (1770-1840), who had already gifted her the recently rediscovered cabinet on stand by Gérard Dagly sold these Rooms, Treasures, 5 July 2017, lot 20.