Hôtel Lambert, Une Collection Princière, Volume V : L’Écrin

Hôtel Lambert, Une Collection Princière, Volume V : L’Écrin

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 1176. A gold-mounted hardstone and micromosaic 'Steinkabinett' bonbonnière, Johann-Christian Neuber, Dresden, 1790.

A gold-mounted hardstone and micromosaic 'Steinkabinett' bonbonnière, Johann-Christian Neuber, Dresden, 1790

Auction Closed

October 14, 05:38 PM GMT


150,000 - 250,000 EUR

Lot Details


A gold-mounted hardstone and micromosaic 'Steinkabinett' bonbonnière, Johann-Christian Neuber, Dresden, 1790

circular, the lid centred with a circular micromosaic plaque representing a colourful peacock butterfly on a white ground within blue and red tesserae border, attributed to Giacomo Raffaelli, in a chased gold frame, on a ground inlaid in Zellenmosaik with 24 different trapezoidal hardstone specimens within chased interlaced or half circle borders, the specimen picking up the colours of the butterfly's wings and each numbered above; the sides inlaid with a further 24 rectangular hardstones, the base mirroring the lid decoration, featuring specimens numbered 73 to 85 in the center, gold lining, unmarked, in a fitted tooled brown leather case, with modern reprint of a booklet listing the specimens to be found on the box 

weight: 179 g

diameter 3⅛ in.; 7,9 cm.


Bonbonnière "Steinkabinett" en pierres dures et micromosaïque montée en or par Johann-Christian Neuber, Dresde, 1790

circulaire, le couvercle orné d'une micromosaïque représentant un papillon, attribuée à Giacomo Raffaelli, dans un cadre en or ciselé, non poinçonné, dans un étui en cuir

weight: 179 g

diameter 3⅛ in.; 7,9 cm.

Swiss private collection;

Christie's London, 29 November 2016, lot 126.


Collection privée suisse ;

Christie's Londres, 29 novembre 2016, lot 126.

The court jeweller Johann Christian Neuber (1736-1808) and his workshops in Dresden produced a wide range of Galantariewaren combining locally-mined hardstones with delicate work in gold. As Jean Auguste Lehninger, a contemporary visitor to Dresden, wrote in 1782: ‘Chez le Sieur NEUBERT, Jouailler de la Cour, on trouve nombre de pierres rare et très belles, toutes sortes d'ouvrages de Jouaillerie et particulièrement un superbe assortiment de tabatières de pierres composées, espèce de mosaïque qui étonne le connoisseur et dont le Sr NEUBERT fait un commerce considerable’. The present lot certainly falls into this category of hardstone boxes set with micromosaics that surprised the connoisseur.

Micromosaicists often depicted animals of various kinds, drawing on the enjoyable potential they have to combine formal beauty, playful individuality and symbolic metaphor. Alongside goldfinches, butterflies were a particularly favoured subject for Giacomo Raffaelli; according to Jeanette Hanisee Gabriel, butterflies are 'something of a trademark' of his. The ornate and polychromatic wings of butterflies are often a marvel to behold, and their miniature scale makes them visually well-suited to the micromosaic form. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, however, in some cultures butterflies also signify rebirth due to their metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Like many beautiful but short-lived natural phenomena, they are also often symbolically invoked to indicate the transience of all earthly things, a meaning that underpins the Ancient Roman mosaic ‘Memento mori’ at Pompeii which depicts a skull crushing a butterfly. Giacomo Raffaelli (1753-1836) had a workshop in Rome and was one of the most famous Italian micromosaicists, bringing a new level of sophistication and refinement to the art form. While he often worked on smaller plaques and boxes, one of his most famous works is a large-scale reproduction of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, which was commissioned by Napoleon and is now at the Minoritenkirche in Vienna. Interestingly, both in Vienna and in Dresden, home to the maker of the present lot, the fascination for hardstones in combination with other materials such as micromosaics, appliqué flower bouquets or cameos seems to have been immense, as for example a porphyry bonbonnière by the Viennese goldsmith Johann Georg Aigner demonstrates, the lid set with an Italian micromosaic plaque of a butterfly (Sotheby's London, 25 May 2022, lot 41). It is widely known that the Dresden court jeweller Johann Christian Neuber was intrigued by hardstones, gemstones, cameos, pearls and micromosaics and the characteristics of each of these materials. For a biography about Johann Christian Neuber, please see lot 1184 in this sale.

The present, previously unrecorded hardstone specimen box belongs to the last group of Tabatieren and Galanteriewaren in Neuber's oeuvre beginning in the late 1780s, characterised by the arrangement of the hardstones in straight rays, as opposed to the earlier scale pattern in which the specimens were inlaid (see for example lot 1184 in this sale). Neuber seems to have used micromosaics to decorate both lids and bases of his Zellenmosaik or Steinkabinett boxes at different periods in his oeuvre. One of the two earliest examples recorded so far is a cut-cornered rectangular box, dated circa 1780/85, in the Gilbert Collection in London (LOAN:GILBERT.353-2008), decorated in lapis lazuli inlaid with rays of Schlottwitz agate, set with an oval micromosaic representing the doves of Pliny on the lid. The other recorded examples seem to all be circular bonbonnières set with circular micromosaics – one representing a floral ornament on the base of a hardstone box now applied with a later cameo (Kugel, op. cit., no. 134), another with a micromosaic of the doves of Pliny (Kugel, op. cit., no. 180) and a third, also in a private collection, decorated with a micromosaic goldfinch (Kugel, op. cit, no. 182). Interestingly, another earlier example by Neuber, c. 1780, now in the Gilbert Collection in London (LOAN:GILBERT.349:1, 2-2008), is also set with two micromosaic plaques by Raffaelli. The lid represents a dog, while the base is decorated with a butterfly in profile on a ground of midnight blue tesserae, the red carnelian on the box cleverly picking up the red hues of the wings, not dissimilar to the present lot with the agates in different hues of dark green, brown and yellow repeating the finely nuanced colours of the glass tesserae forming the body of the butterfly.