The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Snuff box
  • Snuff box
  • Probably Johann Christian Neuber (1736 - 1808) , Goldsmith
  • Dresden, Germany
  • c. 1775, the miniatures probably late 18th century or later
  • Gold, cornelian, ivory and gouache, painted and inlaid
  • Object size: 3.5 x 8.3 x 5.8 cm
    Weight: 183.7 g, without miniatures
    Weight: 201.6 g, with miniatures
    Object size: 4.6 x 3.7 x 0.15 cm, miniature of Voltaire
    Object size: 4.7 x 3.6 x 0.15 cm, miniature of Emilie
  • Mark: Two marks, French import mark for gold 10 May 1838-31 May 1864
    Mark: 'CW = CW1' Scratched
    Label: 'Sold 22/2/72' Inscribed
  • G80
  • Boudoir Cabinet
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Johann Christian Neuber is one of the most celebrated goldsmiths of eighteenth-century Dresden, noted particularly for his work with hardstones. Here the oval box comprises plaques of carnelian, set within a delicate gold trellis incorporating bands of chased scrolls, guilloche and paterae. The carnelian panel on the lid is carved in relief with a depiction of Leda and the Swan, probably by another anonymous Dresden lapidary. Traditionally boxes by Neuber are considered more geometric and rigid in their style, but this one has a marvellous fluidity to the gold work and a pleasing harmony between the hardstone and the gold web in which it sits.
    A secret slide inside can be revealed by pressing on a lower panel, and frames two miniatures on ivory, mounted back to back with portraits of Voltaire (1694-1778) and Mme du Châtelet (1706-1749). Both were among the outstanding intellectuals of their time in Paris, Voltaire a famous author and playwright, Châtelet a renowned mathematician and translator of scientific texts. They had a celebrated affair between 1733 and Châtelet’s death in 1749.
    However, the miniatures, which were noted in a sale catalogue of 1863, were not originally mounted in the box. They both date from after its manufacture and may replace those of an earlier couple or another type of insert, since the slide was most likely made at the same time as the box. Certain boxes are known containing similar slides which contain booklets describing the stones used in their manufacture, and this may also be a possibility for this box.
    An old attribution of the miniature of Voltaire to Drouais goes back to the 1865 sale catalogue and has been interpreted as a reference to Hubert Drouais (1699 – 1767). Current opinion is that the portrait is a combination of a lost drawing, known from an engraving, by Joseph-Etienne Liotard of 1734 of Voltaire as a young man and a portrait by Jean Huber of him as an older man. Regarding the portrait of Mme du Châtelet, this is ultimately derived from a painting by Marianne Loir of the late 1740s, but taken from an engraving by Pierre-Gabriel Langlois of 1786.
    The low standard of gold used in the box (approximately 14 percent.) may be because the gold cagework needed to be strengthened by the inclusion of a large amount of copper, but it is more likely that Neuber required a redder gold to be more compatible with the colour of the carnelian. It appears that there was no system for assaying gold in Dresden at this period.