AN IMPORTANT FRENCH HISTORICIST SILVER-GILT, NIELLO, LAPIS-LAZULI AND GEM-SET JEWEL CASKET
Property of a West Coast Collection
AN IMPORTANT FRENCH HISTORICIST SILVER-GILT, NIELLO, LAPIS-LAZULI AND GEM-SET JEWEL CASKET

MARK OF MENTION ET WAGNER, PARIS, 1832-1838

Details
AN IMPORTANT FRENCH HISTORICIST SILVER-GILT, NIELLO, LAPIS-LAZULI AND GEM-SET JEWEL CASKET
MARK OF MENTION ET WAGNER, PARIS, 1832-1838
In 16th-century taste; the rectangular casket with a hinged cover surmounted by a lapis panel, the panel also hinged and opening to reveal a compartment with gilt interior etched with arabesques; the cover border with stylized leaves against a niello ground, the sides of the casket set with four further lapis panels within scrollwork frames, the rim and base applied with cut-leather and grotesque ornament, the corners inset with arched niches supporting four putti--two girls holding jewel caskets and two boys holding a necklace of an emerald and two rubies--the four corners applied with clusters of baroque pearls with translucent green enamel leaves, the niches and base with blue enamel and lapis stones, the cover, base and sides applied with hardstone and amethyst cameos after the antique, some set with rubies, marked on rim with pre-1838 poinçon de garantie for Paris and maker's mark M&W in lozenge, also with later control marks; the inside of the upper compartment and the inside of the casket stamped with maker's patent BREVET D'INVENT M&W Paris; in original fitted red leather case with brass handles and hardware
12½ in. (31.7 cm.) long; gross weight 255 oz. (7952 gr.)

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Lot Essay

Charles Wagner (1799-1841), silversmith born in Berlin, became a leader in the revival of medieval and renaissance enameling techniques in the Louis-Philippe period in France. In 1829 he obtained a French patent for his technique of inlaying niello, a dark grey metal alloy used to great effect in the present casket. In 1832 he formed a partnership with Augustin-Médard Mention (1785-1849), a lapidary, and their firm, Mention et Wagner, was located at 1 rue du Mail until its dissolution in 1843.

Anne Dion-Tenenbaum, curator at the Musée du Louvre, and a scholar of enamellers of this period, describes Wagner's role as a pioneer in niello and enamel (for which he earned a second patent in 1837) in her study "La renaissance de l'email sous la monarchie de Juillet," Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des chartes, vol.163, 2005, pp.145-164. She notes two pieces that Mention et Wagner exhibited at the Paris fair of 1834, l'exposition des produits de l'industrie: a cup and a jewel casket described as "coffret à bijoux en argent niellé, d'après des modeles de Triqueti" (op. cit., p. 149). Like Charles Wagner, sculptor Henri de Triqueti (1803-1874) rejected the prevailing taste for neo-classical styles, preferring medieval and early renaissance design sources. Further research could establish that the present casket, marked for the period from 1832 to 1838, and bearing the patent mark of the makers, may indeed be the example exhibited at the 1834 Paris fair.

A jewel casket by Wagner's successor, Frédéric-Jules Rudolphi, was sold at Sotheby's, New York, 21 October 2009, lot 44.
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