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D'après la tradition, exécutés pour Frédéric le Grand, roi de Prusse, vers 1780.
Collection Christabel, Lady Aberconway.
Galerie Neuse, Kunsthandel, Bremen, 2001.
P. Macnaghten, 'Pearl and Paint', dans Country Life, 25 mar. 1954, pp. 874-6.
Post Lot Text
A PAIR OF SEASHELL-MOUNTED CARVED WOOD AND OIL ON PANEL TABLEAUX DEPICTING MUSIC-MAKING MEN
BY JOHANN MATTHIAS JANSEN (POTSDAM 1751- KONIGSBERG 1794), POTSDAM, CIRCA 1780-85
Each figure depicted in relief and standing in a landscape, one playing a hurdy-gurdy and the other a flute, the costume of each elaborately decorated with applied seashells, the ground similarly decorated; each in a later painted and silvered rectangular wood frame; restorations and minor damages
Originating from the end of the 18th century, the two tableaux presented here are part of a larger group of comparable works. We know of four other examples offered at auction: 'the gardener' and 'the falconer', two virtually identical works to the present pair, signed by Jansen, are thought to have been created for Frederick the Great, and later formed part of the collection of Christabel, Lady Aberconway (Sotheby's, Monaco, 23 - 24 June, 1976, lot 38); the two other paintings are very similar in style (Sotheby's, Monte Carlo, 3 May, 1977, lot 50).
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the European court had an ongoing love affair with seashells. Objects made with shells or paintings of shells were displayed in 'cabinets de curiosité' and were highly prized by princely courts, often presented by the latter as gifts or used as wall decorations. The Gottdorf Palace in Schleswig had an entire room devoted to shell collections, while the Sanssouci Palace of Frederick the Great housed a 'grotto' dedicated to Neptune and completely decorated with shells.
Among the first sculptures decorated with shells include those exhibited in the Museo degli Argenti, Florence, dating from the 17th century. They were probably inspired by the Milanese painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), who worked in the service of the Habsburg Emperors (see Geza von Habsburg, Princely Treasures, New York, 1997, no. 90, p. 78-79). Our two tableaux are characteristic of Jansen's work and are not only remarkable for the quality of decoration but also for their excellent state of conservation.
Johann Matthias Jansen (Potsdam 1751-1794 Königsberg) initially studied art under Andreas Ludwig Krüger in Potsdam, Germany. In 1770 he visited Vienna, then passed through Rome before ending his travels in Paris in 1773. On his return to Germany, Jansen worked in Berlin, creating a number of paintings, portraits and encaustic works, as well as the interior decoration of the Dobbelsches Theatre. In 1790, he was appointed Director of the School of Art and Design in Königsberg where he was entrusted with the interior decoration of the theatre, including the stage curtain.