Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gifts of Grandeur: An Enameled Figural Snuffbox, 1760-65

English, 1760-65
The Victoria & Albert Museum
We’ve looked at many snuffboxes at Stalking the Belle Époque, but this is the first portrait head we’ve seen. This box of enamel, gold-mounted hardstone and soft-paste porcelain is formed as a girl's head atop a base of agate mounted in gold.

The words, “Je te connais beau masque” (“I know thee, beautiful mask”) are enameled around the base with a scrolled thumb-piece at the front. The mount is chased with scrolls and flowers. The enamel work shows a masterful hand as the head is painted with red lips, flesh tones, black patches and mask. Her eyes are set with diamonds.

The English preferred snuffboxes of precious metals or stone, so very few porcelain and pottery snuffboxes were ever made, making it exceptionally rare. Though it’s labeled as a snuffbox, others have conjectured that it was made, instead, to hold sweetmeats or pills. Though the porcelain box itself implies German (Meissen) manufacture, the mounts were made in England, possibly Birmingham.

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