Friday, May 9, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Meissen Envelope Snuffbox, 1755-c.1880

Meissen Porcelain, Enamel and Gold
Painted Interior--1755
Mountings and possibly exterior panels made in Nineteenth Century
This and all related images from:
The Gilbert Collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum

This unusual snuffbox is one part of a small group of Meissen boxes that were made in the shape of envelopes. The exterior of the box is rather plain, just like an envelope, but, when opened, it reveals a wondrous scene of musical entertainment beside the river Elbe—painted in enamels. Albrechtsburg, the castle outside Dresden, is visible in the scene, in the background behind the musical scene. That castle was the location of the manufacture of Meissen porcelain. Given this, it is highly possible that the scene used in this box may have been made as a souvenir of a visit to the Meissen Factory. While the porcelain and enamel scene was made in Meissen around 1755, the mounts and execution of the box came about much later—likely during the Nineteenth Century. 

The box’s mounts are of a particularly high quality. While the goldwork is rather simply, it is wholly elegant with its two flaring thumpieces and handsome sheen. The top of the box, in keeping with the envelope theme is "addressed" as any package would be.  Inscribed in enamel, the "address" reads:  “à Celui qui le Merite,” or “To the one who deserves it.” Cute.  The reverse is "sealed" in envelope style with an enamel painting of an impressed blob of red sealing wax.  It's a truly splendid piece.  

Click the images to enlarge.

The piece is part of the collection that Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde amassed during their lifetimes. Theirs is one of the world's great decorative art collections. It includes treasured examples of silver, mosaics, enameled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996, leaving it to the V&A where it remains a centerpiece to this day.

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