Himmelheber, G., Puchwiser, Boulle und die Boulle-Mobel fur Munchen, in ‘Kurfurst Max Emanuel. Bayern und Europa um 1700’. (exh.cat), 1976, vol.1, pp.250-264;
Graf, H., & Huey, M., 'Southern German Writing Furniture in the Boulle Technique: Johann Puchwiser (c. 1680-1744) and His Workshop in Munich', in Studies in the Decorative Arts v.1 nr. 1, 1993, pp. 49-75;
Eikelmann, R (exh. coord.)., Prunkmöbel am Münchner Hof: barocker Dekor unter der Lupe, Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, 2013;
Sangl, S., 'The court cabinet-maker Johann Puchwiser and Viennese Boulle furniture', in Ute Hacka and Rachel King (ed.), in Baroque furniture in the Boulle technique: conservation, science, history, Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, 2013, p.57-70.
Despite having been until recently considered a monopoly of France, this technique, which takes its name from Louis XIV's ébéniste André-Charles Boulle, was used in the Low Countries and the German States to an exceptional degree of quality and inventiveness, namely in Vienna and Munich. In this city the deeply ambitious Prince Elector Max Emanuel II (1662-1726) aimed to create a court consentaneous with his aspirations that could attract new artists. In this context, we see the young Johann Puchwiser (1680-1744) arriving there in 1701 and writing to the Prince Elector in 1702 to offer his cabinet-making services. He says that he was “acquainted with making more beautiful and precious (works) using all types of materials, figures, in all manners and of all types than were being made abroad, indeed than in the Holy Roman Imperial City. (Himmelheber. p.250). In fact, Puchwiser was the son of a farmer from Hohenfurth, Bohemia, next to Munich, and seemed to have trained in Vienna, seeing the city as “his aesthetic paragon” (Sangl, p.57). He introduced himself as “Galanterie” and “Clopturkistler” – meaning that he considered himself a worker of metal and tortoiseshell furniture in the luxurious French taste.
In order to prove his worth, Puchwiser offered the Elector a pewter, brass and tortoiseshell marquetry box, with the Wittelsbach’s coat-of-arms, displaying a full understanding of the novel technique but also demonstrating an extremely high level of skill (fig.3). This confident approach was successful and the Elector gave him a job for a probationary period. Ever confident, Puchwiser was soon complaining about being badly paid but further that he “was about to finish a marquetry piece in precious metal and that no other maker in Munich would have this level of craftsmanship” (Himmelheber, op.cit. p.252). He added that it could only be compared to the pieces that were being executed in the Viennese court. His self-belief was not without merit and, in August, he was appointed court cabinet-maker.
Following the unstable political situation that led the court into exile in 1705, Puchwiser was dismissed of his role. He seems to have made several pieces decorated in marquetry before Max Emanuel's exile as these were recorded on the lists of furniture sent to the Netherlands with the Prince, however these are not identifiable today. Nevertheless, he found work in the following years, through private commissions, some probably from Vienna, and even managed, astonishingly, to finance personally the two double-sided bureau-cabinets (dopperschreibschranke) that had been commissioned before the Elector left Munich. These can be considered Puchwiser’s masterworks and now reside in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (R3891 and R3892). When Max-Emanuel returned to Munich in 1715, he reinstated Puchwiser as hof galanterie kistler, took possession of the bureaux and paid him accordingly. He remained court cabinet-maker even after Max Emanuel’s death, but does not seem to be recorded working after the end of 1729 until his death on the 11th April 1744.
The documents available, which were largely reproduced by Himmelheber, give us only a partial and sometimes incoherent picture of Puchwiser’s life and work. Only through recent studies - such as the groundbreaking exhibition and seminar in the Bayerisches Nationalmusuem in 2013 - and addenda to his oeuvre, such as the present lot, we start to have a better understanding of his importance in the context of boulle marquetry in the German States and of him as a relevant figure in Max Emanuel’s patronage. Furthermore, we now have a broader and more precise view of the extraordinary boulle furniture made beyond Paris.
Through Augsburg, German speaking cabinet-makers were very aware of engravings by Jean Berain and those inspired by him. Ornamental designs ‘à la goût moderne' by Paul Decker (1677-1713), Jonas Drentwett and Johann Jakob Biller (d. 1723), with multiple variations of Laub. Und Bandlwerk were commonly available for use and interpretation. Puchwiser's creativity and free flowing style normally combine traditional Germanic figures as well as grotesque motifs with ornaments and strapwork much in the manner of these designs. In our example, we see this free interpretation of ornamental patterns, with elements from Berain on the sides - the perched peacocks - but with the central horizontal panels, with arched ends, fan shaped shells and loose laubwerk, recalling the arrangement and fluency of some of Daniel Marot’s garden designs. The laurel leaf banding is a motif seen in Marot’s ceiling designs, and was used in a similar way in the casket offered to the Prince-Elector mentioned above.
As seen in the dopperschreibschranke, Puchwiser favours a polychromatic play of the materials, with the use of strong red ground for the tortoiseshell and strong blue ground for the horn. This preference is something that he would have assimilated in Vienna, where boulle marquetry with wide use of pewter, red tortoiseshell and even the use of inset pieces of lapis-lazuli was occurring (see cabinet on stand on loan with Museum für angewandte Kunst Prag, inv.nr.65.390).
A Xrf metal analysis was carried out and revealed that the pewter is composed of tin, bismuth, lead and small traces mercury. While lead and tin are common alloys in present old and modern pewter, mercury is typical for late 17th century / early 18th century pewter used in boulle marquetry furniture and not found on later 18th or 19th century revival furniture in this technique. The presence of bismuth is typical for East European / German tin, and consentaneous with the firm attribution of this piece. The brass alloy is very high in zinc, which is unusual for French brass but consistent with brass in other works of Puchwiser, as revealed by the chemical analysis published by Riederer and Piening (Hacka and King (ed.) Baroque furniture in the Boulle technique, … 2013)
The Rape of Europa scene to the top is inspired by two engravings by Antonio Tempesta part of a 1606 Antwerp edition of the Metamorphosis of Ovid (Metamorphoseon sive transformationum Ovidianarum libri quindecim, aeneis formis ab Antonio Tempesta florentini (...) a Petro de Iode Antverpiano in lucem editi, pls. 21 and 56) (fig.2). The main scene is after the equivalent plate, but Puchwiser amusingly added the toad as seen on plate 56. This, together with the two hunting scenes, is finely engraved with varying thickness and demonstrating accomplished skills, which might suggest the use of a copperplate engraver.
Puchwiser, as a confident craftsman, was able to develop his own style which, with the emergence of new research over the past decades, is becoming more and more autograph. Besides the present lot, only one other signed piece by him is known (a bureau mazarin, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, R3363, dated 1714) and this new addition to his growing corpus of work is an important and sophisticated element to understand his oeuvre. In the words of the doyenne of Bavarian Furniture history, Sigrid Sangl, (...) Johann Puchwiser freed himself from not only the Viennese but also the French models. With a series of his own inventions, be they from the point of view of construction or ornament, he became one of the most original cabinet-makers of the 18th century” (Sangl, op.cit, p.68).
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