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A GERMAN GOLD-MOUNTED SHELL SNUFF-BOX
A GERMAN GOLD-MOUNTED SHELL SNUFF-BOX
A GERMAN GOLD-MOUNTED SHELL SNUFF-BOX
A GERMAN GOLD-MOUNTED SHELL SNUFF-BOX
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PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN COLLECTION
A GERMAN GOLD-MOUNTED SHELL SNUFF-BOX

BERLIN, CIRCA 1745

Details
A GERMAN GOLD-MOUNTED SHELL SNUFF-BOX
BERLIN, CIRCA 1745
Carved from a cowrie shell with reeded gold mounts, the cover with a pug dog lying on a tasselled cushion beneath a canopy, a man's right hand reaching down, one side carved with two gentlemen, one, a Master Mason seated and holding a Masonic hammer representing authority, the other, a Masonic candidate, with the Masonic Lodge to his left, entering and approaching between the two pillars of Solomon, Boaz and Jachin, one surmounted by the sun, the other by the moon, within c-scrolls and foliage, an arched bridge and river below, the other side depicting the initiation ceremony of the candidate, he lies blindfolded on the floor as the master stands above him, one foot on his chest, pointing a sword at his head, with Masonic regalia including a trowel, a square, a compass, a hammer and a satchel placed on a table, a three-candle candelabra beyond, above a colonnade, the base set with gold mounts chased with the sun veiled by clouds and engraved with the inscription 'Non omnibus lucet' (it does not shine everywhere), amidst rocaille scrolls and foliage, raised scroll thumbpiece, in associated blue leather case
3¼ in. (82 mm.) wide

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Katharine Cooke
Katharine Cooke

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Lot Essay

The various scenes carved into the shell on this box refer to the rituals involved in the Masonic initiation ceremony. Such a box, in all probability, would have been commissioned to celebrate the recipient's initiation into, or foundation of, a lodge. The gold mounts and quality of the carving would suggest that this box was commissioned by a leading royal or noble Mason. Among the former, Clemens August, Elector of Bavaria (1700-1761), Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1740-1786) and Augustus III, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (1696-1763), who was the grand-master of the order in Saxony, are all possibilities. Following the suppression of freemasonary by Pope Clement XII in 1738, Clemens August, Archbishop Elector of Cologne and Prince-Bishop of Munster, Hildesheim and Osnabruck founded an alternative pseudo-Masonic order in Germany and Sweden known as 'Mopsorden', the Order of the Pug. The order was at its most active between 1740 and 1782 and aimed to provide members with a legitimate substitute for Masonic social rites. Its members were largely Roman Catholics and, unlike in traditional German masonry, women were admitted to the order. In addition to Royal members, the organisation attracted many members of the nobility. Among these mention should be made of Heinrich, Count von Bruhl (1700-1763), who was Prime Minister from 1746 under Augustus III of Saxony. As well as a diplomat, he was director of the Meissen factory from 1733 till 1763. He was one of the 18th century's greatest collectors in a wide range of fields including Meissen snuff-boxes. Incidentally and probably not coincidentally, he is known to have kept several pug dogs.
There is insufficient evidence to allow the attribution of the vast majority of shell-carving to a specific artist or workshop although goldsmiths or gem-cutters working in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Nuremberg and Augsburg are known to have carved the material. Gold mounted boxes of all types, including snuff-boxes and étuis, were frequently set with either carved or plain shells in the 18th century. A number of gold snuff-boxes incorporating hardstones, often amethystine quartz, dating from the mid-18th century, carved with a pug dog and presumably commissioned for a member of 'Mopsorden', are recorded. Though most, if not all, are unmarked, these are convincingly attributed to Dresden and Berlin workshops. It is unfortunate that the place of origin and original owner of this snuff-box, remain to be identified with certainty at the present time. It nevertheless remains an outstanding 18th century snuff-box both in terms of workmanship and condition.




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