A Dutch silver plaque
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A Dutch silver plaque


A Dutch silver plaque
Utrecht, 1620, maker's mark indistinct, struck twice
Rectangular, repoussé and chased in high relief with an equestrian portrait of Christian, Duke of Braunschweig-Luneburg-Wolfenbüttel the Younger in full armour, holding a pistol in his right hand and seated on a rearing horse, the background with his army led by cavalary with infantry behind about to charge, the skyline with a mountainous landscape, the upper right hand engraved with the Duke's arms in a chased cartouche hanging from a branch, within a chased auricular border, marked on lower border, in an ebonized frame
31.1 cm. (11 7/8 in.) wide
496 gr. (15 oz.)
Anonymous sale; Christie's, Amsterdam, 24 November 1998, lot 498 (to Dreesmann).
Dr Anton C.R. Dreesmann (inventory no. G-114).
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Lot Essay

The identification of the figure on this plaque as being Christian the Younger (1599-1626) is based not only on the coat-of-arms but also on a comparison with his known portraits. There is a striking similarity in the face and the small pig-tail worn behind the left ear which appears in all portraits of him. The pig-tail worn in this way had been fashionable at the court of Christian's uncle, Christian IV, King of Denmark, for a short period.

In 1607 Sophia Hedwig, Duchess of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, married Count Ernst Casimir of Nassau-Dietz, a full cousin of Prince Maurits van Orange-Nassau, the Commander in Chief of the Dutch army. Not much later her younger brother, Duke Christian, came to Holland to learn the military trade from his brother-in-law and from Prince Maurits. He later returned to Germany and, at the age of 17, he was elected Lutheran administrator of the diocese of Halberstadt. However, he opted for a military career, and became a fierce and deeply anti-Catholic general on the Protestant side in the Thirty Years' War. His recklessness in battle gained him the nickname 'der tolle Halberstädter'.

In 1618 Ernst Casimir was appointed military govenor of Utrecht and he set up his court in Bischopshof Palace. From then onwards Duke Christian made Utrecht his home base. He is first recorded in Utrecht in May 1619 and in August he entered the service of the provincial States as a cavalry captain. The shawl in this silver portrait of the Christian the Younger, worn around his chest, was in reality orange coloured and was a sign of the House of Orange. He took part in several campaigns under Prince Maurits, the first of which was partly fought in his native territory of Braunschweig.

Duke Christian spent part of the year 1620 in Utrecht, training his troops. He actively supported the Lutheran community and laid the first stone for a new church in August 1620. In the spring of 1622 he raised an army in support of King Frederick V of Bohemia, and marched into Germany. By the end of that year he had lost an army as well as his left arm in the battles with the army of the Catholic League. The next year he lost another army in the battle of Stadtlohn, which destroyed his reputation as an effective general. He remained in the service of the province of Utrecht until June 1624, when he joined the army of his uncle Christian IV, King of Denmark.

The importance of the role of the Duke at this time in Utrecht is indicated by the number of portraits in which he appears, some of which are by Utrecht artists. The earliest portrait, dated 1619, is by the well known artist Paulus Moreelse (1571-1638), and is now in the collection of the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig. This portrait had previously been hung next to those of the Princes Maurits, Frederik Hendrik and Johan Ernst of Oranje Nassau in the Castle of Gemen. Moreelse's portrait of Christian was engraved by Simon van de Passe and his brother Chrispijn in 1622. Copies of this portrait are to be found in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht and the British Museum, London. The artists M. van Mierevelt, D. Mytens and A. van Ravesteyn all painted portraits of the Duke.

Apart from its historical importance the present lot is of considerable artistic interest. The central figure is shown in a traditional pose but surrounded by a border chased in the latest fashion of its time. The figure strongly resembles a similar plaque of Archduke Maximilian III attributed to Jan de Vos made in circa 1600.

The border of the present plaque is chased in the 'Kwabstijl' or auricular style which was based on the 16th century Flemish grotesque ornament incorporating floral and human motifs. During the first quarter of the 17th century the Utrecht silversmiths and brothers Paul and Adam van Vianen developed this style. A large number of designs and engravings of the work of Paul, Adam and the latter's son Christian, who worked in both Holland and London, were published (Constighe Modellen etched by Theodoor van Kessel, see J.R. ter Molen, Van Vianen, een Utrechtse familie van zilversmeden met een internationale faam, Utrecht/Rotterdam, 1984, 2, chapter 10, p. 55) and helped to popularise the style particularly throughout Northern Europe during the later 17th century.

The father of Christian the Younger, Heinrich Julius, Duke of Braunschweig, frequently visited the court of Rudolph II in Prague, where he ordered works of art and in 1610 commissioned Paul van Vianen to create a gold cup. Thus when Christian came to Utrecht a few years later, he would have been familiar with the auricular style. Adam van Vianen, Paul's brother, and his followers were very successful in this style, and were working in Utrecht at the time this plaque was made.
We are grateful to the following for their help in cataloguing this plaque: Dr. Louise van den Bergh, Drs. Marten Jan Bok, Mr. M.D. Haga and Dr. Johan R. ter Molen.


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