Jacob Dobbermann was a virtuoso carver of both ivory and amber who spent much of his life working in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. He was certainly in London in 1711 but returned to Germany no later than 1716 where assumed the role of court sculptor to Charles, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel and, later, his son William VIII. Dobbermann was well versed in the art of carving in relief and in three dimensions as his highly accomplished plaque of Neptune and Amphitrite in the Reiner Winkler collection, Germany, and his figure of Henry VI in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, testify (Theuerkauff, loc. cit., and V and A website; http://collections.vam.ac.uk/objectid/O89318 respectively). In both instances Dobberman demonstrates his great skill in carving the minute details of the hair and beard while also showing great dexterity in rendering the multiple textures of drapery.
With the bust of Oliver Cromwell offered here, Dobbermann demonstrates this same skill while also showing great sensitivity in the rendering of the Lord Protector's facial features. Despite the fact that he would have been working from an engraving or a miniature, he managed to achieve great naturalism in the carving of the furrowed brow, the broad jaw and cleft chin as well as in the delicacy of the hair, moustache and collar - one small corner of which has lifted as if caught by a gust of wind.
While it is not clear exactly how long Dobbermann spent in London, he is known to have been in Godfrey Kneller's academy in 1711 and to have also been a member of the Rose and Crown Club in the same year. It is therefore highly likely that Dobbermann carved the bust of Cromwell during this period. This dating is further corroborated by the fact that the bust is unlike other known work by Dobbermann and is, in fact, much more closely related to the works of his French contemporary David Le Marchand (1674-1726), who was working in London in precisely the same years (see Avery, op. cit., nos. 38 and 69, for example). The connection between the two may be through the painter Godfrey Kneller; le Marchand knew the former from having carved his portrait in circa 1710 (now in the Thomson collection, Toronto, see Avery, op. cit., p. 74, no. 39) and Dobbermann would have known Kneller through the Academy. It is therefore highly likely that the latter introduced his young German compatriot to the well-connected Frenchman. The importance of this bust must, therefore, be appreciated on multiple levels: it is a very rare sculptural portrait of this sitter, it represents the artist's virtuosity in his craft, it is emblematic of his development and influences and, most interestingly, embodies the creative atmosphere of London in the early 18th century.