This exquisite box with its precious inlays both to the interior and the exterior was most likely to have started life as a jewellery casket. Originally the lid would most likely have had a mirror to the reverse and perhaps a shallow nest of compartments for make up accessories below. The present fitting can be identified as later for two main reasons: Louis (Ludwig) Esser only established himself in Arau after 1803 and when the fitted panel is removed, one can see that there is a vacant space where the original catch for the drawer was situated.
This magnificent casket with its concealed drawer to one side is signed in the most original fashion. The signature can only be seen on the removal of the drawer from the casket and is to found on the back of the drawer lining. The signature itself is sawn out of a piece of timber, shaped as a scrap of paper and inlaid into the drawer lining. The signature reads Wagner fecit AV 1793, meaning Wagner made this, Augsburg 1793; AV being the abbreviation for the Latin name of Augsburg: Augusta Vindelicorum. There are two Wagner's listed in Thieme Becker active as cabinet makers in the late 18th century: Johann Friedrich Wagner (1756-1838), active in Amberg near Nuremberg and Georg Friedrich Wagner (1751-1835), active in Augsburg. Of the two the latter is the most logical attribution for an object signed Augsburg. Georg Friedrich received commissions from many important citizens amongst which the Prince Elector Karl Theodor of Pfalz and Bavaria. He is also mentioned by the city chronicler of Augsburg Paul von Stetten in 1788, '... not only does Georg Friedrich Wagner make the usual cabinet work in walnut, cherrywood and other woods but also singular pieces of exceptional nature. These are medallions with antique heads within inscription bands.'
The Counts Butler von Clonebough
The lid is centred by the finely engraved coat of arms of the Counts Butler von Clonebough. The origins of this family lie in Normandy, France; in 1066 they came to England with William the Conqueror. Theobald Hervey took the name Le Botelier, referring to his function as chief Steward or cup-bearer, this name was Anglified into the family name Butler. During the Thirty Years War a family member entered into military service for the Holy Roman Empire, thereby attaining property in Bohemia as reward from Emperor Ferdinand II. In 1681 Edmund Theobald Butler von Clonebough was granted the title of Count by Emperor Leopold I. There were five male members of the family alive in 1793 who could have commissioned the casket: Theobald Wenzel and his four sons. It is most likely to be Theobald Wenzel as his sons incorporated the arms of the counts of Haimhausen into their own. Theobald Wenzel married the countess Haimhausen in 1768. One of Theobald's sons, Cajetan (1777-1827) made a military career rising to the rank of Major General, possibly he had the casket adapted to receive the drawing instruments, which he could have used in his military capacity.
The coat of arms is centred on a lozenge which in turn is flanked by a band to either side. This design is quite often used on drawer facings by David Roentgen from 1785 onwards. The centaurs on the sides of the casket can be traced back to frescos adorning the walls of Cicero's villa in Pompeii. The side drawer is a tour de force of marquetry displaying several different techniques next to each other. The floor of the drawer is centred by an oval with pictorial marquetry depicting the Three Fates. The band surrounding them is inscribed CLOTHO COLUM RETINAT, LACHESIS NET, ET ATROPOS OCCAT. The Three Fates or Moirae decided the length and quality of life, with each strand of string symbolic for a life, Clotho spun the thread, Lachesis measured the thread and Atropos cut the thread.
The interior of the drawer is inlaid with some ten different highly accomplished marquetry patterns, among some which draw their inspiration from the so-called stereometric marquetry which was a speciality of Nuremberg and Augsburg cabinet-makers of the early 17th century. This complex type of marquetry which gives the illusion of volume and three-dimensionality to the designs, is executed on the flat surfaces of the two opposing drawer blocks as well as to the reverse of the lids on one side.
The complexity of the construction of the fitted interiors of this drawer - such as secret drawers, spring activated locking mechanisms with concealed catches and rising compartments with concealed drawers - also underline a relationship with the cabinet-makers active in Augsburg and Nuremberg in the early 17th century. Quite possibly the inspiration for some of the marquetry patterns derive from the marble floor of the Goldener Saal of the Augsburg Rathaus.
The majority of the instruments are Swiss and marked L.Esser, Arau, most likely dating to circa 1810-1830. The sector is signed by Claude Langlois (circa 1730-51) who was one of the finest French instrument makers of the 18th-Century, engineer in mathematical instruments to the Académie des Sciences and one of the select group of craftsmen working in the Louvre.
G. Leonhardt, Eine signierte Schatulle von 1793 aus Augsburg, Fachhochschule Hildesheim, 2000, pp. 3-36.
P. von Stetten Kunst, Gewerb- und Handwerkgeschichte der Reichsstadt Augsburg, Augsburg, 1788, p. 39.
J. Siebmacher Siebmachers Grosses Wappenbuch Neustadt an der Aisch 1970, p. 110.
Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels gräfliche Häuser, B-Band IV, p. 57f.