Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Not Pretty

I had big plans for this week, but they all became moot when a careless driver turned, without looking, into oncoming So, I'm stiff and sore and now involved in the ordeals which follow such an event. Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of this site. I'd been planning a big online fete, but that will come next week when life settles down.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Sene and Detalla Snuffbox, 1800

Snuff Box
Sene and Detalla, Geneva
With Original Leather Box
Gold, Diamonds, Enamel
This and all related images:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

We’ve looked at a good many snuffboxes over the last three years, but this one is exceptionally fine. Here, we see an oval gold snuffbox enameled in translucent blue within taille d'épargne (a popular decorative technique of the Eighteenth Century also known as “sparing cut” in which engraved lines in a metal base are filled in with opaque enamel, without any variation in the depth of the lines) borders .

The cover of the snuffbox is set with glittering diamonds depicting a Chinoiserie pavilion which is trimmed with foliage and flowers within an additional border of diamonds with champlevé (The technique of decoration by enameling in which the design was made by lines or cells cut into the metal base by carving, engraving, etching or stamping and filled with powdered enamel of various colors and then fired to fuse the enamels) foliage between. The base of the box is beautifully engine turned and engraved with a temple beside a lake upon which ships float.

The box comes from Geneva, Switzerland and was probably produced for the Ottoman Empire, where there was a keen market for European-made objects in the Chinoiserie style.

Painting of the Day: Portrait of Beatrice Cenci, 1842

Portrait Miniature of Beatrice Cenci
Charles Richard Bone, 1842
After Guido Reni
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The remarkable vibrancy of this painting from 1842 owes to the fact that it was painted in enamel on metal. Enamel, more so than traditional miniature painting (watercolor painted on vellum or ivory) was preferable as a medium in as much as  it does not fade when exposed to light.  However this technique does not allow the freedom that watercolor does.  The V&A describes it best, “The process of painting with enamels is, however, less free than the miniature technique and is fraught with danger. The first colors to be laid on the metal support have to be those needing the highest temperature when firing. More color is added and the enamel re-fired, the process ending with the colors needing the lowest temperature.”  Furthermore, due to the intensive labor associated with the technique, this was a far more expensive option that the usual choices.

This is actually an enamel copy of an earlier portrait by Guido Reni.  Charles Richard Bone, grandson of artist Henry Bone, and son of the celebrated Henry Pierce Bone, has taken great pains to recreate Reni’s portrait of Beatrice Cenci, an Italian noblewoman who was famously at the center of a lurid, Sixteenth-Century Roman murder trial.   

Beatrice Cenci (1577-1599) is said to have murdered her brutal father and was condemned to death by Pope Clement VIII.   The original by the influential Seventeenth-Century Italian painter Guido Reni hangs in the Galleria Barberini, Rome.

The Home Beautiful: The King Edward VII Jewel Casket, 1909

Silver-Gilt and Enamel Jewel Casket
Presented to King Edward VII, 1909
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This jewel casket was presented to King Edward VII by the Mayor, Aldermen and councilors of the Royal Borough of Kensington as a gift in honor of His Majesty’s visit to the borough to open new buildings at the V&A in 1909.

The “new buildings,” illustrated on the enamel plaque of the case, refer specifically to the Cromwell Road extension to the V&A which was designed by the architect Aston Webb. When this extension opened, “The Daily Chronicle” noted that the opening was “the only bright spot in a week of unspeakable weather … actually the sun shone with special ardour when His Majesty spoke the words which pronounced the museum open forever.” The Daily Telegraph described this gift that was presented to the King as “ golden casket of exquisite workmanship.”

The silver gilt casket is heavily chased, adorned with enamel plaques depicting the building project and surmounted by a finial in the shape of the Royal Crest. It was designed by Charles Stephen Worrall for The Goldsmiths’ and Silversmiths’ Co., Ltd. 

History's Runway: A Pair of Antique Turquiose and Enamel Earrings, 1880

Enamel, Turquoise, Pearls, Diamonds, Gold
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Jewels are always lasting symbols of affection and, long ago, became a canvas for creative ways in expressing love through the use of symbols and forms. Here, in this pair of earrings from the 1880’s, we see one of the most enduring symbols of love—cupids.

Neatly rendered on enamel, these cupids are set in frames of gold, adorned with pearls, turquoises and rose-cut diamonds, each symbols of eternal affection.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square will Continue on Monday

I often tease you on Sundays with upcoming events for Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.  But, this coming week's chapters will be SO shocking, I don't want to risk spoiling too much.  Instead, let's just review what we know.

1.  Gerard and Gamilla's wedding is hours away.
2.  Orpha and Ulrika are plotting to somehow revitalize Marduk and his two heads.
3.  Ruthy is bitter.
4.  Gerard inadvertently burned a warning note from Johnny Donnan.
5.  Ulrika and Ruthy have had a little private chat.

Now, how does all of that add up?

Come back on Monday to find out.


Precious Time: The Notebook Watch, 1840

Swiss, 1840
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This masterpiece of gold, enamel, silk , paper, and glazed miniatures under glass is a clever combination of useful items and attractive design. Made in Switzerland in 1840, this notebook boasts glazed miniatures of bucolic scenes on both covers and conceals an enamel and gold pen.

When opened, the notebook reveals, on one side, a scene of the Palais Royale in Paris, and on the other, a jeweled watch with an enamel face.

Curiously, though I have access to a dozen photographs of this work of art courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, I have none of the watch or the scene of the Palace nor can I find any. There’s a picture of the paper lining, but none of the good stuff. So, we’ll have to imagine what they might look like. But, based on the opulence of the outside, I’d guess that the inside is quite grand.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Queen Mary’s Menthol Case, 1908

Menthol Case, 1908
Given to Queen Mary when
Princess of Wales.
Gold, Enamel, Moonstone.
The Royal Collection

Designed sometime between 1896 and 1908 by Henrik Wigström for Fabergé, this beautiful box was given as a gift by The Duchess of Roxburghe to Queen Mary (when she was still the Princess of Wales) on Christmas of 1908. A large cabochon moonstone tops the case, set in two-tone gold. The sides are resplendent in careful enamel-work in white and a pale blue which perfectly matches the stone. Gold ribbons and swags adorn the enamel.

A menthol case is rather a peculiar idea to modern eyes. Menthol—a minty crystalline compound derived from peppermint or other mint oils—was often carried for medicinal purposes. Menthol is a solid at room temperature, but becomes an oily balm when slightly heated. Menthol was used to heal chapped lips, clear sinuses, combat bad breath, aid ailing stomachs, as a topical analgesic and even to prevent itching. It would make sense to keep this useful compound near to you when your medicinal options were rather limited. Since menthol tended to be messy, cases such as this kept a lady’s bag oil-free.

I wonder if it still smells like menthol. I suppose I’ll never know. The case is on display in the Royal Collection at the Queen’s Gallery at 
Buckingham Palace. If any of you ever get a chance to sniff it, let me know.