Accompanied by an original steel, gold, enamel, and diamond-set crank key
Jehan Cremsdorff of Paris appears to be recorded only in Tardy, Dictionnaire Des Horlogers Francais, where he is listed as working in Paris in 1663-1683 as Joachim or Malecict Cremstorff or Crensestorf.
The present lot is a masterful combination of watchmaker, goldsmith, jeweller, and enameller. The use of three enamel techniques champlevé, en relief, and peinture en camaieu creates a three dimensionality and is a triumph of enamel work. While the enamelling technique is certainly based on the styles created in Blois, it is more likely that the enameller was from the Paris workshop, where Cremsdorff worked. Very few artists signed their cases at the time, therefore it is impossible to attribute this example to a specific painter.
Scholars attribute the invention of painting enamel subjects on enamel ground to the goldsmith Jean Toutin. Born in Chateaudun in 1578, Toutin trained as a goldsmith and worked in Paris until his death in 1644. This technique, invented around 1630, replaced the more traditional champlevé and cloisonné techniques, as it allowed relatively large scenes painted on copper, or in this case gold, to be fired without buckling or cracking. see Britten’s, Old Clocks and Watches and Their Makers, p. 62, 9th edition. The technique was further developed in Blois, which became a centre for artists learning the practice.
While artists frequently painted the interiors of watch cases in turquoise blue enamel, approximately five known pieces exist with the case entirely decorated in this color. The most notable, apart from the present example, is a watch signed by Edward East, in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Inv. No. 14-1888.
The decoration of this piece involves covering a thin gold case entirely in blue enamel. The outer layer of gold is chased in high relief and then enamelled in the technique called l’emaillage sur ronde-bosse d’or. The flowers to the back of the case are asymmetric and realistically shaded, while diamonds further add opulence to the cover as well as the chapter ring and steel hand on the interior.
The enamellist has drawn inspiration from a contemporary source for the three figures on this piece. The women on the dial and front and back are taken from Abraham Bosse’s circa 1636 series of engravings entitled The Cardinal Virtues. Bosse worked in Paris and was a founding member of the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1648.
The virtues Bosse depicts in his series are the seven heavenly virtues; a combination of the four classical virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and courage) and the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity). Three virtues are present here, with Temperance on the dial, Charity on the opposing inner case back, and Hope on the inner case back opposite the movement. The skill of the enamellist is shown in his adaptation of the dynamism of Bosse’s original engravings to the medium of en camaieu painting. Finally, the artist demonstrates his mastery of proportions, when he truncates the image of Temperance, which originally appeared on a rectangular 7.78 x 5.4 cm engraving, to the centre of the dial without distorting the scene.
Abraham Bosse (circa 1602-1676), a Huguenot artist known for his prints and etchings, had a prolific career. He mainly produced images of daily life, history, literature, fashion, and religion. His father was a tailor, which is evidenced by Bosse’s attention to detail when depicting clothing which the enamellist expertly re-creates in his figures of Charity, Temperance, and Hope.
The exceedingly high quality of the present watch indicates that it was most likely commissioned by a person of great wealth. Simon Bull, a noted specialist in early enamel watches and consultant at the time of the 1986 auction, notes that the most elaborately enamelled and jewelled watches from this period were most likely commissioned by Royal or Aristocratic patrons. The watch belongs to a select group of pieces decorated with turquoise enamel on both the inside and the outside of the case. Two other examples which employ similar enamel work are an example by Goullons of Paris at the Metropolitan Museum of Art acc.no. 1975.1.1244, and a watch made for Queen Christina of Sweden in the Royal Palace collection in Stockholm. The watch at the Met portrays a miniature of the young Louis XIV. The enamelled flowers to the case bear a striking similarity to the present lot. Queen Christina’s piece has similar use of turquoise enamel to the outside of the case, though now exists as a case only, with no watch. Like Queen Christina’s watch, the present lot also comes from Sweden. The piece's importance as a 17th century object and its remarkable condition further underscore its unparalleled rarity.
Sotheby's would like to thank Simon Bull, Scholar of early watches, and Hans Boeckh, Art Historian and Doctor of Letters, for their assistance.
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