Antiquities, Art History, Art Museums, Museum Exhibitions

Gold, Jasper and Carnelian: Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court; The Frick Collection, New York City, through August 19, 2012

A Jeweler Picks Up Where Nature Left Off.  Johann Christian Neuber’s Gold-and-Stone Snuff Boxes at the Frick

[The New York Times,]  Most intoxicating vices involve some kind of paraphernalia, designed for convenience, traveling light and, often, showing off. These run the gamut from engraved silver liquor flasks, Art Deco cigarette cases and Moroccan leather hashish pouches to the so-called beer hats of today.

A box inlaid with semiprecious stones by Johann Christian Neuber, from around 1765-70, is in “Gold, Jasper and Carnelian,” a new show at the Frick Collection.
Credit: Thomas Hennocque, Private Collection, Editions Monelle Hayot

A piece from around 1780.
Credit: Michael Bodycomb/Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Porzellansammlung

A box of gold and semiprecious stones from around 1770-75.
Credit: Hugues Dubois, Private Collection

A view of the bottom of the box.
Credit: Hugues Dubois, Private Collection

While few such objects distill thought, skill and materials into that thing called art, there are exceptions. Outstanding among these are the gemstone snuffboxes created by the German goldsmith Johann Christian Neuber (1736-1808), working in Dresden, the cosmopolitan capital of Saxony. Nearly 30 of these boxes, generally no larger than the palm of a hand, dominate “Gold, Jasper and Carnelian: Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court,” on view at the Frick Collection.

The show’s centerpiece, writes Ms. Smith, is the Breteuil table, “whose top is something of a pitched battle among sizable Meissen porcelain plaques of mythological scenes, circles of imitation pearls (made of rock crystal and silver dust), and rather bulky swags and wreaths of bas-relief gemstones.”
Credit: Michael Bodycomb/The Frick Collection

“The winner is the field of battle itself, a radiating surface tiled with 128 postage-stamp-size squares: Each is a sample of a different gemstone or petrified wood, numbered according to an identification list in a small booklet that came with the table (and can be perused on a nearby touch screen).”
Credit: Georges Fessy/The Frick Collection

Ensconced in the museum’s Oval Room, the show’s 43 small, impeccably wrought wonders also include gemstone buttons, a cane handle, several bonbonnières (candy boxes) and one astounding piece of furniture, a modest-size but luxuriously decorated oval table. It was commissioned from Neuber by his chief patron, Friedrich Augustus III (1750-1827), Elector of Saxony, in 1779, as a gift to the French diplomat Baron de Breteuil. Still owned by the baron’s family, it has never before crossed the Atlantic.  Read More.

A box decorated with a geometric pattern and an enamel miniature, by Christian Friedrich Zinke, of an unknown woman, from around 1775-80.
Credit: Thomas Hennocque, Private Collection, Editions Monelle Hayot

The Frick Collection presents the first comprehensive introduction to Neuber’s oeuvre, including important diplomatic gifts and approximately thirty-five snuffboxes, bonbonnières (candy boxes), and fashionable accessories. These objects were appreciated not only at the Saxon court but also throughout Europe. Offered as refined gifts, they were also acquired to attest to the wealth and good taste of their owners. Snuffboxes were especially fashionable: more than containers for tobacco powder, they were elegant accessories of a highly sophisticated society. Carried in hand or taken from a pocket, the delicate box would immediately arouse admiration.

A Steinkabinettabatiere, or stone cabinet snuffbox, from around 1765-70.
Credit: Thomas Hennocque, Private Collection, Editions Monelle Hayot

The exhibition is co-organized by the Grünes Gewölbe of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Galerie J. Kugel, Paris, and The Frick Collection. Support for the presentation in New York is generously provided by Walter and Vera Eberstadt, Aso O. Tavitian, Margot and Jerry Bogert, and an anonymous donor.

If there is anyone reading this post who has not visited New York City, or who is not familiar with the Frick Collection, run – don’t walk – to the museum the minute you arrive in the City.  The museum is the former residence of Henry Clay Frick, a steel magnate of an earlier day, who bequeathed his mansion and his collection to the City of New York upon his death in 1919.  The museum is just south of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue.



One thought on “Gold, Jasper and Carnelian: Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court; The Frick Collection, New York City, through August 19, 2012

  1. Now these are stunning art pieces..
    You always create the most interesting and beautiful posts..
    Thank you!!

    Posted by free penny press | July 15, 2012, 11:00 am

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