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
    Mark: 'CW = CW1' Scratched
    Label: 'Sold 22/2/72' Inscribed
  • G80
  • Boudoir Cabinet
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • A secret slide in this outstanding Dresden snuff box 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 being widely considered the leading playwright and one of the best authors of his time, Châtelet a celebrated mathematician and translator of scientific texts. They had a renowned affair between 1733 and Châtelet’s death in 1749. The mythological scene of Leda and Swan on the lid of the box, however, is incongruous in the company of the two portraits. When the box was produced Châtelet had been dead for about twenty-five years and Voltaire was much older than he appears in the portrait.

    An old attribution to Drouais goes back to the 1865 sale catalogue and has been interpreted as a reference to Hubert Drouais (1699 – 1767). Little is known about him as a miniature painter and his dates cannot easily be reconciled with the dates of the snuff box. His son, François-Hubert (1727-1775) was one of the most prominent portrait painters of ancient régime and closely associated with the royal house. His name was extremely well known in the art trade in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is most likely that the reference was intended to indicate the younger and more famous Drouais. He died rather too early to have supplied miniatures specifically for this box, although in theory it might have been possible.