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 1193. A rare and complex gold, ivory and lacquer nécessaire à secrets, probably A. J. L. Couturier, Paris, 1758.

A rare and complex gold, ivory and lacquer nécessaire à secrets, probably A. J. L. Couturier, Paris, 1758

Auction Closed

October 14, 05:38 PM GMT


60,000 - 80,000 EUR

Lot Details


A rare and complex gold, ivory and lacquer nécessaire à secrets, probably A. J. L. Couturier, Paris, 1758

rectangular, each side set with an oval panel of Japanese lacquer decorated with flowers and leaves, on tortoiseshell grounds inlaid in coloured gold piqué posé with flowers, chevron engraved gold cagework mounts, the box filled with several secret compartments holding a gold pencil and formerly containing 'un petit bureau à écriré', the interior of the lid set with a portrait miniature of Franz I, Holy Roman Emperor, by Antonio Bencini, circa 1750, wearing a red jacket with gold lace and the Order of the Golden Fleece, painted on ivory, in a gold locket frame, on an aventurine lacquer ground, the oval lid containing a miniature of Maria Theresa by the same hand, wearing a white lace dress and black lace streamers in her hair, cloud and sky background, one end concealing a gold-mounted calendar dated 1759, the other with two gold ink bottles and a funnel; enclosed within the box are the handwritten instructions for unveiling the secrets of the box and avoiding the decoy pressure points, maker's mark, charge and discharge mark of Eloi Brichard (1756-1762), Paris date letter S for 1758,

width 4¼ in.,11 cm.

Please note that this lot contains elephant ivory the export of which outside the EU is now prohibited pursuant to European regulation 2021/2280 of 16 December 2021. Sotheby's will be able to provide the buyer with the intra-community certificate attached to this item


Rare et complexe nécessaire à secrets en or, ivoire et laque, probablement A. J. L. Couturier, Paris, 1758

orné de panneaux en laque japonaise sur chaque face, la boîte à plusieurs compartiments secrets, le couvercle orné de miniatures par Antonio Bencini, poinçon d'orfèvre, poinçon de charge et de décharge d'Eloi Brichard, lettre-date S de Paris pour 1758

width 4¼ in.,11 cm.

Veuillez noter que ce lot contient de l’ivoire d’éléphant et que conformément au règlement européen 2021/2280 du 16 décembre 2021, l’exportation de biens contenant cette matière hors de l’UE est interdite. Sotheby’s sera en mesure de délivrer à l’acquéreur le certificat intracommunautaire concernant ce bien.

Veuillez noter que pour ce qui concerne le transport hors Union Européennes de lots contenant de l'ivoire d'éléphant, Sotheby's ne pourra pas assister les acheteurs. Un acheteur ne pourra pas différer le paiement du prix de ces lots, ni demander une annulation de leur vente, au motif qu'il serait dans l'impossibilité de les exporter et/ou de les importer. Please note that Sotheby's will not be able to assist buyers with the shipment outside the European Union of any lots containing Elephant Ivory. A buyer's inability to export or import these lots cannot justify a delay in payment or a sale's cancellation.

Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874);

His daughter Hannah Primrose, Countess of Rosebery (1851-1890);

Her husband Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, 1st Earl of Midlothian and thence by descent;

Sotheby's London, Magnificent Silver-gilt, Objects of Vertu and Miniatures from the Rothschild and Rosebery Collection, Mentmore, 11 February 1999, lot 183;

Collection Carl De Santis;

Sotheby's New York, 4 November 2011, lot 266.


Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874);

Sa fille Primrose, comtesse de Rosebery (1851-1890);

Son mari Archibald Primrose, 5eme comte de Rosebery, 1e comte de Midlothian et puis par descendance familiale;

Sotheby's Londres, Magnificent Silver-gilt, Objects of Vertu and Miniatures from the Rothschild and Rosebery Collection, Mentmore, 11 février 1999, lot 183;

Collection Carl De Santis;

Sotheby's New York, 4 novembre 2011, lot 266.

It is the greatest good fortune that this box and its secrets still exist virtually complete and in good order as early mechanisms of the artfulness and complexity of the present example must be of the utmost rarity. Boîtes à secret were extremely prized in mid 18th century Paris. According to Maze-Sentir, certain orfèvres such as Couturier, Bellanger, Corbin, Délion, de la Salle and Porcher were specifically listed in the Almanach Dauphin as specializing in 'les bijoux de fantasie et à secret'. The type of mechanism varied from simple false bottoms containing miniatures (usually suggestive) to secret springs flipping open to reveal a miniature (often a portrait) or compartment. An example of 1770-1775 by Johann Christian Neuber of Dresden, in the Wallace Collection, of carnelian mounted in gold, the lid carved with Leda and the Swan, is now known to conceal a secret drawer in the base, swinging open one a pin-prick and containing portraits of Voltaire and his beloved, Madame Emilie du Châtelet (illustrated A.K. Snowman, Gold Boxes of Paris, 1974, nos. 687/8). This Neuber box was included in a collection from H.I.M the Empress Eugénie, sold by Frederick David of Pall Mall, from which the Earl of Rosebery purchased a number of items in 1872.

A few other gold and hardstone boxes by Neuber or his contemporary Christian Gottlieg Stiehl contain secret compartments holding small booklets identifying the hardstone specimens on the boxes, using a similar mechanism of hidden buttons integrated in chased or engraved borders, such as a Steinkabinett-Tabatiere by Stiehl, sold Sotheby's London, 20 December 2020, lot 12.

The portrait miniature painter Antonio Bencini was born in Italy about 1710 and became miniaturist to Empress Maria Theresia, making portraits of numerous members of the Imperial family. An example, signed: A. Bencini pinxit, showing Emperor Francis I with the Empress and their children on the terrace at Schloss Schönbrunn, is illustrated by G.B. Beirmann, Die Miniaturensammlung dess Grossh. v. Hessen, Leipzig, 1917, pl.131.

The maker's mark on the gold mounts of the present lot appears to read JLC with a slightly raised A between. The mark cannot be that of J. A. Lecocq (JALC with a cockerel différent, the small symbol incorporated in the mark which was often a pun on the name of the maker) who entered his mark on 16 October 1758 as there is no cockerel and Lecocq is specified by Nocq as joaillier metteur en oeuvre. It can be suggested that the mark is that of Aimé-Joseph-Louis-Couturier who had registered his mark, described as fleur de lys couronnée, deux grains, AJLC, in 1747. There are a number of examples among the hundreds of marks listed by Nocq where the orders of letters in not as officially registered (for example Edmé de Limoges, ELD for EDL, or François-Germain Tiron, FTG for FGT). Furthermore, the name of Couturier appears on Maze-Sentier's list of goldsmiths specializing in boîtes à secret. Aimé-Joseph-Louis, son of Jean Couturier, valet de chambre of the comte d'Offémont, was apprenticed to the gold-box maker Pierre-Aimé Joubert, at the age of 15 years 8 months on 28 February 1736. He was sponsored by Claude Boyer, from the rue de Roule where he remained until 1755. He is listed in the rue de la Ferronerie from 1756 until his death in 1773. No works by Couturier appear to be recorded but this would not be surprising given the fragile and ephemeral nature of a boîte à secret.

The date letter 'S' on the box was in use between July 1758 and July 1759 but even so the box must date from between July and Christmas 1758 as the almanac for 1759, which is one of the secrets, would suggest that the box was an étrenne or New Year's gift. It is evident that the necessaire must have been a special commission both because of its richness and the political nature of the concealed miniatures. Even though Madame de Pompadour had engineered the 'renversement des alliances' in 1756 this allying France with Austria rather than Prussia, and involving France in the Seven Years' War with disastrous colonial results, the Austrians were still extremely unpopular with most of the French.

By tantalizing coincidence, a celebrated necessaire with remarkable similarities to the present example was actually given to Madame de Pompadour herself by the Empress Maria Theresa in January 1759 in gratitude for her help. The Empress had considered offering some choice token to the king's favorite since the signing of the second treaty of Versailles in May 1757 and asked von Starhemberg, her envoy in Paris, whether a sum of money, a boîte à portrait, or a diamond aigrette in Viennese taste would be appreciated. He replied that the present that would give most pleasure would be 'une écritoire du prix de 4,000 ducats, jolité de mode alors très-goûtée par les dames de Paris'. The Empress felt that this was not expensive enough and suggested that her portrait framed by valuable diamonds be set into the writing-case which would be created form the choicest Japanese lacquers sent from her own extensive collection in Vienna. The final bill, including payment to the jeweller Empereur goldsmith Ducrollay, miniature painter Veneveault, an unknown designer, and for an outer case and the cost of sending the écritoire to Vienna for the Empress's approval and back to Paris for presentation, came to 77.2781.19s. Apparently Madame de Pompadour was so overwhelmed by the flattering lavishness of the gift that she took the unusual step of writing directly to the Empress to thank her. 

Certainly by the time of her death, the necessaire appears to have been denuded of the portrait and diamonds. When it was sold by her heir, the Marquis de Marigny, on 25 January 1765, it was simply described as 'une très belle et riche écritoire de lacquer, montée en or, encrier, poudrier et porte-éponge d'or, le tout ciselé et grave, garni d'une guirlande de fleurs qui entoure un cercle d'or pour recevoir un portrait et enfermé dans une belle boîte de lacquer garnie d'argent.'

The present box appears in the Mentmore inventory of 1884, vol.II, no.173,

Piqué box, opens with secret springs and contains two scent bottles, a funnel, an almanac in manuscript of the year 1759, a pencil, the pointed key with manuscript directions for finding the secret springs, and two portraits representing a lady and a gentleman. They were probably members of the Austrian Imperial family', with added note copied from a receipted list in Mr Barker's handwriting dated 1851, 'A gold and tortoiseshell case; secrets...£80' (Blarenberghe Room)