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Details & Cataloguing

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A small gold-mounted tortoiseshell and figured agate snuffbox, Adrien-Jean-Maximilien Vachette, Paris, 1789
oval, the lid inset with an oval panel of agate with mossy inclusions, resembling a winter sunset or even Napoléon's bicorne hat with Mercury's wings, gold frame and lining, maker's mark, charge and discharge marks of J. J. Kalendrin, date letter for 1789

MN 4376
PNB 1293


2.6 x 7.8 x 4.7 cm.
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Provenance

Eugénie, Empress of the French (1826-1920);

Prince Victor Napoléon (1862-1926);
Prince Louis Napoléon (1914-1997)

Literature

Related Literature

Mémoires de Constant, premier valet de l’Empereur, Paris, 1830, vol. 2, p. 88;
Sophie Mouquin, 'Agate, Jasper and Sardonyx: Gemstones in French Mineralogical Collections of the Eighteenth Century', in Alexis Kugel, Gold Jasper and Carnelian, Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court, London, 2012, pp. 44-89

Catalogue Note

Although one of the most lavish distributors of richly-jewelled presentation boxes, in his private tastes Napoléon I preferred simplicity. According to his valet he wore no jewels and carried in his pockets only a handkerchief, a snuff box and a bonbonnière containing licorice. ‘His snuff boxes were narrow, oval with hinges, in black tortoiseshell, mounted in gold, decorated with cameos or antique medals in silver or gold’. Napoléon’s will describes the cabinet of snuff boxes which he had taken with him to St Helena, including 33 mainly of tortoiseshell, his favourites set with coins or portraits of family members, much like the boxes in the present collection and including a rectangular example simply set with an agate like the present box.

Interesting mineral specimens had long been included in cabinets of curiosities such as that of the Abbé de Fleury (sold in 1756) and Dezallier d’Argenville (dispersed in 1766). When categorising their collections, some preferred to index them by place of origin and others to typify their patterns and physical characteristics, particularly with regard to the dendritic agates. This serious scientific research had a more frivolous side and gave rise to stones being chosen for the pictures which could be seen in them then setting them in snuff boxes for display. A gold box set with a ‘very precious’ oriental agate was included in the sale of the’ comte de ***’ in March 1786 – in the middle [of the stone] is shown a young stag running, its hind legs resting on a small section of terrace and having before it a kind of hillock’. It is typical of the work of Vachette, that he should have seen the potential in the pictorial stone on this box and should choose to mount it in the taste of the Emperor.

Adrien-Jean-Maximilien Vachette, a prolific and imaginative gold box maker, combined the excellence of quality and inventive creativity of a Carl Fabergé while always remaining within his strictly defined area of boxes.  Baptised at Cauffry in the Oise on 20 January 1753, he was the fifteenth and last child of Pierre Vachette, a tax collector, and his wife Marie-Anne Pillon.  After 8 years of apprentissage, he became master under the auspices of the gold box maker Pierre-François Drais whose influence can be seen, particularly in the pre-revolutionary period, in Vachette’s clean lines emphasised often by pilasters.  Vachette remained for some years in the vicinity of Drais’s former workshops, taken over by Ouizille, in the place Dauphine.  In 1798, he was recorded at 3/45 quai de l’Horloge and then 3/45 quai du Nord (the revolutionary name for the quai de l’Horloge) in 1806.  He continued to produce a large number of boxes, many in association with Charles Ouizille, Nitot and Montauban.  He died in 1839, leaving a widow, Anne Cécile Fronteau, and daughter.

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