Sunday, March 24, 2013

Masterpiece of the Week: Queen Charlotte’s Jewel Casket, 1737

Jewel Casket
Emanuel Eichel I, 1737
Gold, Ivory, Tortoiseshell,
Mother-of-Pearl, Enamel, Diamonds,
Made for Emperor Charles VI
Owned by Queen Charlotte
The Royal Collection

No one is quite sure how Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, came to own this jewel casket, however, it was among those possessions of hers which were auctioned off in 1819. It didn’t reenter The Royal Collection again until 1872, at which time a thorough investigation was made of the piece, identifying it as being more historically significant than even originally thought.

To begin with, the casket is exceptionally fine. Piqué panels of tortoise shell inlaid with gold and mother of pearl form the casket itself which is surmounted by a tinted ivory and gold figure of Victory which is set with stunning rubies and diamonds. It is signed on the reverse by Augsburg’s Emanuel Eichel I who was known for his intricate gold-work and jewelry, particularly his mastery of designs featuring tortoiseshell and ivory.

The inlaid scenes depict the victory of Prince Eugene of Savoy over the Ottoman Empire (1716). The records of Emperor Charles VI from the time period indicate that he commissioned Eichel to create a work commemorating Prince Eugene’s triumph. The completed work—a magnificent jewel box of tortoiseshell, ivory and diamonds, was said to be Eichel’s greatest masterpiece. A mention of this casket made in 1752 indicates that it was unaccounted for.

Clearly, this is the same casket. How or why it came into the possession of Queen Charlotte remains a mystery.

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