Daniel Baudesson was born on 15 August 1716 in Metz. The son of François Baudesson, a Huguenot cobbler, Daniel was apprenticed in Berlin as orfèvre bijoutier to another French Huguenot marchand joaillier, Samuel Colliveaux. He eventually completed his training in Paris. By 1741, Baudesson had moved back to Berlin, marrying Elisabeth Friot, and qualified as a master goldsmith. Only a few years later, the skill of his craft attracted the attention of King Frederick II of Prussia and Baudesson was appointed Hofjuwelier to the King.
Frederick the Great is arguably the most notable 18th Century Royal collector of vertu and, of all his renowned musical and artistic pursuits, he reputedly took the greatest personal interest in his snuff-boxes. The records of the Royal inventories detail his intense involvement in the creation and commissioning of over three hundred exquisitely made boxes from the time of his accession in 1740 to his death in 1786. The King carried one of his delicately jewelled or colourfully enamelled snuff-boxes with him at all times, famously taking one into battle at Kunersdorf in 1759, where it saved his life by stopping a bullet. Now only twenty-six examples from this renowned Royal snuff-box collection are known to have survived. These expertly made objects are held mainly in Charlottenburg Castle, the Gilbert Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre, making works by Frederick the Great's acclaimed goldsmiths as rare as they are intricately opulent.
Works that can be firmly attributed to Daniel Baudesson are even rarer than those known to have been in Frederick the Great's collection. Gold boxes made by Baudesson are identified either by the inscription of his name on the flange of the box or by his crowned maker's mark 'DB', the incuse Berlin date letters M, N and Q and the Berlin bear mark. The court jeweller's marks were not recorded until 1981 in S. Grandjean's Catalogue des tabatières, boîtes et étuis des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles du musée du Louvre, and the current example is one of only a handful of extant boxes known to be made by, rather than merely attributed to, Baudesson (Grandjean, op. cit., pp. 275-277). The rarity of the box is further enhanced by its unusual shape, which suggests it may have originally had a miniature or mirror set inside the lid. Of the small surviving group of works by Baudesson, only eight marked and five signed snuff-boxes have been recorded on the market and in collections over the last century.
The Louvre contains two examples of Baudesson's marked works: one with date letter N and signed enamels by Daniel Chodowiecki (1726-1801), depicting Endymion and Diana (Inv. OA 6752, Grandjean, op. cit., p. 275, no. 414), the other indistinguishably marked, with enamels also by Chodowiecki of Mars Disarmed by Venus (Inv. OA 7657, Grandjean, op. cit., p. 276, no. 415). A further example of Baudesson's marked work, with enamels after Le Plaisir de l'été by Chodowiecki, also with date letter N, was sold Sotheby's, Geneva, 15 May 1990, lot 14. Another marked box with date letter N and Chinoiserie subjects in burgau and mother-of-pearl on cream agate was sold Sotheby's, Geneva, 19-20 May 1997, lot 425. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also contains two hardstone and mother-of-pearl gold boxes with Baudesson's maker's mark: one with lapis lazuli panels encrusted with ruins and figures carved in mother-of-pearl and ivory, from circa 1770 (K. Snowman, Eighteenth Century Gold Boxes of Europe, London, 1990, p. 340, no. 716), the other of ivory, mother-of-pearl and agate, depicting putti, with a jewelled thumbpiece (W. Baer, Prunk-Tabatièren Friedrichs des Großen, Munich, 1993, p. 4, no. 3).
The most relevant marked example is a Frederick the Great oval snuff-box enamelled en plein with an allegory of the Arts and Sciences in the Gilbert Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which carries the marks 'DB' under an open crown, the crowned Berlin bear's head and date letter Q, identical to those found on the present box. The six enamels of the Gilbert Collection snuff-box are also unsigned, and framed by distinctive translucent brown enamel (C. Truman, The Gilbert Collection of Gold Boxes, Los Angeles, 1991, pp. 226-228, no. 77). Not only are the two boxes by Baudesson linked through their marks and translucent enamel borders, but also through their mutual depiction of prosperity and the flourishing of the arts, after French paintings. The present box is enamelled with harbour scenes, probably after prints based on paintings by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789). The finely painted enamels on all sides of the box interestingly depict placid commerce during a period of relative unrest caused by the Seven Years' War. The fashion for tranquil harbour scenes after Vernet is also seen on another enamelled gold snuff-box, similarly dated 1757-1758, by the Parisian goldsmith, Jean Formey (fl. 1754-1791), now in the Huntington Collection, Inv. No. 27.17a (S. M. Bennett and C. Sargentson [eds.], French Art of the Eighteenth Century at the Huntington, New Haven, 2008, pp. 408-410, no. 147). It is also possible that works by 17th Century Dutch artists, notably Thomas Wijck (1616-1677) and Abraham Storck (1635-1710), contained in many 18th Century collections, inspired these scenes.
The link between the Gilbert box and the present example is perhaps most relevant due to the identical date letter found on both gold boxes. The fact that Baudesson produced similar work for Frederick the Great in the year marked by date letter Q is further supported by a crystal-encrusted snuff-box with Baudesson's mark and Q incuse in the Danish Royal Collection. In his book on Frederick the Great's boxes, Dr Winfried Baer dates this box to 1758, which suggests the present box was made in the same year as the crystal-adorned commission for the king (W. Baer, op. cit., p. 41, no. 29).
The question of whether the present box was made by Baudesson, specifically for Frederick the Great in 1758, is not simply answered, however. The Royal Schatullen-Rechnungen do not contain records for the years between 1755 and 1763; a gap possibly explained by the intervening Seven Years' War, which Frederick the Great waged from 1756 to 1763 (W. Baer, op. cit., pp. 82-85). The 1758 date of the present box situates it firmly in this undocumented period. Determining if the box once belonged to Frederick the Great is further complicated by the fact that scholars of gold boxes assert that the quality of Baudesson's work for the King and his other clients is invariably excellent and therefore indistinguishable. The present box is smaller than the extant Frederick the Great boxes and it has been suggested that, based on the dimensions, it was a toothpick-case or a patch-box. What remains incontestable, however, is that every aspect of the elegant design, unique shape and superior craftsmanship of the box evinces the description by Erman and Reclam in their 1786 Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire des Réfugiés François dans les États du Roi, of Baudesson's work as possessing a 'supériorité véritablement unique'.
We are grateful to Dr Winfried Baer for his comments on this gold box.