A ROYAL SWEDISH PROVENANCE
QUEEN HEDVIG ELEONORA OF SWEDEN
Even before the Revolution many important pieces of furniture from the French Royal palaces had long been dispersed and indeed many of the best examples had already left France before the Revolution, some of these as Royal gifts or commissions. The provenance of this spectacular cabinet is such a case and offers a tantalising link between the Royal courts of France and Sweden. The silver mount of the lapis 'seal' medallion held in the beak of the eagle surmounting the cabinet is one of the keys to the provenance, as its Swedish inscription reads:
'This cabinet belongs to King Charles X, was given by his wife Queen Hedvig Eleonora to R.R. (knight) Count Carl Gyllenstierna, and by descent to R.R. (knight) and field marshal Axel Fersen'.
The cabinet was almost certainly acquired by the francophile Queen Hedvig Eleonora (1636-1715), who survived her husband, King Charles X of Sweden (1622-1660) by 55 years. As will be demonstrated below it is unlikely that the cabinet was produced before circa 1665-1670 and therefore unlikely that King Charles X owned the cabinet but was either given to, or commissioned by the Queen. It was in fact under Queen Hedvig Eleonora that many of Stockholms most important architectural projects were initiated, many of these to designs by Nicodemus Tessin, and it was also she who opened the first theatres in Bollhuset in 1666 and in Lejonkulan the following year. As Sweden's first director general of public works, Tessin oversaw all public building in the country and, in addition, assumed responsibility for royal interiors and important ceremonies of state. Besides all this, Tessin, who remained in constant contact with diplomats and artists at the court of Versailles, made a brilliant career for himself as a courtier and a politician: in 1712 he was appointed a privy councillor, and two years later he was made a count, the highest title of nobility in the country. During one of his stays in France he built the Château de Roissy, near Paris, for the Comte d'Avaux and in 1705 presented to Louis XIV proposals for a remodelling of the Louvre. In Stockholm a commission for a gradual modernization of the old Royal Castle of Three Crowns developed, after the devastating fire there in May 1697, into a project to build an entirely new palace and a plan for a new royal palace, preserved in the Nationalmuseum Stockholm, which Tessin presented just six weeks after the fire, carries on the reverse the signatures of approval of the Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora and the Council.
COUNT CARL GYLLENSTIERNA AND STENINGE PALACE
The medallion furthermore mentions Count Carl Gyllenstierna (1649-1723) as well as field marshal Count Axel von Fersen, refering to Count Fredrik Axel von Fersen (1719-1794), known as Axel von Fersen the elder. This indicates its link with Steninge, the Baroque palace built with the Queen Regent's support for the young chamberlain Count Gyllenstierna and subsequently owned by the von Fersen family. Carl Gyllenstierna had inherited the estate of Steninge in 1667 and helped by the widowed Queen, a staunch francophile, and the Queen's favourite architect Nicodemus Tessin, turned it into one of Sweden's principal Baroque palaces, providing a suitable setting for such a magnificent cabinet. Inspired by Italian and particularly French Baroque architecture Tessin drew ideas for Steninge directly from Louis Le Vau and André Le Nôtre's plans for the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte and despite numerous other, largely Royal, commissions Tessin is said to have regarded Steninge as his masterpiece. Adding further to his wealth, Count Gyllenstierna later married the widowed Countess Anna Maria Soop, who had previously been married to Count Axel Wachtmeister af Mälsaker. She survived him and following her death in 1735 Steninge Palace - and with it the cabinet - were sold to Count Hans Reinhold von Fersen (1683-1736), who was married to Eleonora Margareta Wachtmeister af Mälsaker, the daughter from Anna Maria Soop's first marriage.
COUNT AXEL VON FERSEN
Steninge was subsequently inherited by field marshal Count Fredrik Axel von Fersen, who also inherited further estates, both from the Fersens and the Wachtmeisters, including Mälsaker in Södermanland as well as Blasieholm and the Fersen Palais in Stockholm. However, in the 1770s Fersen commissioned the architect Jean Erik Rehn (1717-1793) to build him another house of grand proportions, which would be in the newly-fashionable restrained neo-classical style. The building of Ljung in Östergötland took from 1774 to 1790 and it must have been in preparation of Fersen's move to Ljung that the cabinet was brought to the workshops of the Stockholm court cabinet-maker Johan Christian Linning (1749-1801), as documented by the dated signature on one of the drawers: 'Reparerat 1787 af Joh. Christ.n Linning Kong Hof Schatull= makaren ok Hof-Snickaren'.
His son, Count Hans Axel von Fersen (1755-1810), known as Axel von Fersen the younger, followed his father's career path in military, politics and diplomatic services and during his first posting to the French court in the early 1780s became a close friend and alleged lover of Marie-Antoinette. He returned to France at the height of the French revolution where he was instrumental in the Royal family's attempt to escape which was frustrated when they were taken captive at Varennes. Following his father's death in 1794 Fersen returned to Sweden and took posession of the vast estates. In his diary he describes how on 1 July 1795 he comes to Ljung for the first time and on this occasion describes the cabinet which had been placed in his private apartments:
' Rummen äro vackra, i synnerhet mitt kabinett, men sidenmöbler slitas fort, smutsas och äro ledsamma och fula pa landet. Mitt kabinett är i malad lärft, där star ett mycket vackert skap med inlagda stenar och florentinsk mosaik, gjort 1613, som tillhört Karl X och har skänkts av hans änka, Hedvig Eleonora, till Carl Gyllenstierna, morfar till min far, som fatt det i arv.' [ The rooms are beautiful, particularly my [private] rooms, but pieces of furniture upholstered in silk quickly show wear and tear, get stained and are not suited for the country. My room is [decorated] in painted linen, there is a very beautiful cabinet decorated with stones and Florentine mosaic, made in 1613, which belonged to Karl X and was given by his widow, Hedvig Eleonora, to Carl Gyllenstierna, maternal grandfather of my father, to whom he left it.]
Axel von Fersen died in 1810 without heirs and the estates - including the cabinet - passed to his younger brother Count Fabian Reinhold von Fersen (1762-1818), who in turn left them to his daughter Countess Hedvig Wilhelmina Augusta Sofia Maria Teresia Lovisa Gyldenstolpe, née von Fersen (1816-1879). The cabinet must have then passed to her son Carl August Fersen Gyldenstolpe (1846-1891) and his wife Countesse Märta Christina Lovisa ('Louise') Gyldenstolpe, née Baroness Leijonhufvud (1854-1924) and it appears to have been in her lifetime that the cabinet returned to Paris, where it was sold as part of a two-day sale of the 'Collection of Countess Louise Gyldenstolpe', Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 14-15 May 1923, lot 204.
THE CABINET IN CONTEXT
THE GOBELINS MANUFACTORY AND CHARLES LE BRUN
In 1662 Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's minister of finance, moved a number of tapestry workshops to the Gobelins where he established a central manufactory with the intention of improving the quality and efficiency of production. In the previous year the personal reign of the young King had begun, and together with his minister Louis XIV envisaged a program of furnishing the Royal palaces and creating a court art proclaiming the glory of the Bourbon monarchy. Soon craftsmen other than tapestry weavers established themselves at the Gobelins. In 1663 the artistic direction was entrusted to the King's premier peintre, Charles le Brun, who during the ensuing decades was to design most of the sumptuous works created at the Gobelins and to oversee their production. He was able to impose a unity of style on the manifold works of art made for the Royal palaces (F. Knothe and C. Sargentson, 'The Gobelins workshops', in : M. Snodin and N. Llewellyn, Baroque, Style in the Age of Magnificence 1620-1800, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2009, pp. 124-125).
Part of Colbert's policy to promote the French luxury industries and to put an end to the huge amounts of money spent in procuring works of art from abroad, was a campaign to invite foreign artists and craftsmen to come and work in Paris. He selected practitioners of arts not yet fully mastered in France, thus enlarging the technical and artistic scope of the Royal manufactories. In this he had been preceded by Cardinal Mazarin who had persuaded many artists from his native Italy to move to France. Probably around 1660 Dominique Cucci (1640-1705) from Todi near Rome, and his cousin, the sculptor Philippe Caffieri (1634-1716), responded to Mazarin's invitation and settled in Paris.
Although still young, Cucci must have already been an accomplished artist and he was soon appointed menuisier d'ébène ordinaire du Roi. He was probably given a workshop at the Gobelins immediately in 1662. In that very year he started work on a very grand pair of cabinets, devoted to Apollo and Diana. The various accounts from the Royal administration that survive, in particular the Comptes des Bâtiments published by Guiffrey in 1883-1891, provide a full picture of the work done by Cucci for the King at the Gobelins (full extracts are given in A. Pradère, Les ébénistes Français de Louis XIV à la Révolution, Paris 1989, pp. 58-61). Apart from cabinets, Cucci, who is normally referred to as a cabinet-maker but also appears as fondeur, specialised in gilt-bronze fittings for windows and doors, wall-lights and other ornamental bronzes such as the balustrade for the Escalier des Ambassadeurs at Versailles.
THE FIRST GREAT CABINETS
The first pair of cabinets made by Cucci for Louis XIV, the Apollo and Diana cabinets, were delivered in 1664, although they had apparently not been quite finished by then (Demetrescu, Ibid p. 61). Undoubtedly designed by Le Brun, they were of marked architectural form, being somewhat reminiscent of triumphal arches. Through his overall design Le Brun was able to impart a strongly French look to a type of furniture that had previously been made principally in Italy and Augsburg. At the time of their delivery, they were described as 'deux grands Cabinets d'architecture appellés Appollon & Diane ornez de quantité de figures & ornemens de bronze doré & enrichis de pierreries avec leurs pieds composez de douze termes chacun dorez couleur de bronze'. Clearly, these earliest pieces by Cucci shared many features with the present piece: they were decorated with many gilt-bronze ornaments and figures as well as elements in hardstone, and had stands with bronze-coloured figures. In addition, each of the cabinets was decorated with three gouaches painted by Joseph Werner. The cabinets have long since disappeared, but three of the gouaches, figuring Louis XIV and his queen, Marie-Thérèse of Spain, have survived and are at Versailles (Th.H. Lunsingh Scheurleer, 'A la recherche du mobilier de Louis XIV', Antologia de Belle Arti 27-28 (1985), pp. 38-44, figs. 3-5; Demetrescu, op. cit. pp. 60-61). Cucci obviously orchestrated the work of a large number of artists and craftsmen when making up pieces combining many materials and techniques. It may be surmised that the carved wooden parts of the cabinets were executed by his cousin, the sculptor Philippe Caffieri. The finished pieces must have offered an enormous contrast to the well-known ebony cabinets that had been the mainstay of Parisian ébénisterie for several decades.
GLORY AND VIRTUE, WAR AND PEACE
Cucci immediately embarked on a second great pair of cabinets, symbolising Glory and Virtue. This commission was closely linked to the order for another pair, symbolising War and Peace, given at the same time to the other principal ébéniste working at the Gobelins, Pierre Gole (c. 1620-1685). The appearance of the latter pair is known through an engraving made by Gole's son, Corneille, and it may be imagined that those by Cucci somewhat resembled them (Th.H. Lunsingh Scheurleer, Pierre Gole, ébéniste de Louis XIV, Dijon 2005, pp. 144-149, figs. 114 and 117). Again, Le Brun's care to create architectural pieces of marked French character is apparent. Gole's cabinets were decorated with gilt bronze busts and plaques, paintings on copper, lapis lazuli columns and marquetry of brass and pewter, a speciality of this maker (Th.H. Lunsingh Scheurleer, 'Pierre Gole, ébéniste du roi Louis XIV', The Burlington Magazine 122 (1980), pp. 384-386). Cucci's cabinets, by contrast, were 'tout couverts de Jaspes Lapis et Agathes', besides also boasting figures and reliefs in gilt bronze; they rested on caryatid figures supported by crouched lions, all of gilt wood - an unusual feature also seen on the present cabinet (Demetrescu, op. cit. pp. 62-63).
A highly distinctive aspect of Gole's two great cabinets is their form à trois faces, the projecting central part being linked to the sides by curved sections. The canted corners of the present cabinet echo this architectural approach to the form of a cabinet, and as on Gole's masterpieces, the shape is outlined by a pronounced balustrade. Another feature of Gole's cabinets that is repeated on the present piece is the gable-like frontispiece at the top, flanked by seated figures.
THE ALNWICK CABINETS
Cucci is now best known as the maker of the two great cabinets in the collection of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle, as these are the only pieces by him that can be identified with certainty (P. Verlet, French Royal furniture, London, 1963, no. 1; Demetrescu, op. cit. p. 73). Delivered in 1683, they belong to a later phase of production at the Gobelins. Much more frontally conceived, they mainly serve to display the splendid pietre dure plaques produced at the Gobelins by Italian specialists who were emulating the production in Florence. The workshop of these craftsmen, Orazio and Ferdinando Megliorini, Filippo Branchi and Gian Ambrogio Giacchetti, had been established in 1668 (F. Knothe, 'Pierres fines: The Manufacture of Hardstone Works at the Gobelins under Louis XIV', in: W. Koeppe and A. Giusti (ed.), Art of the Royal Court, Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2008, pp. 40-53).
THE PIETRE DURE PLAQUES
The nineteen beautiful pietre dure panels that are mounted on the cabinet were undoubtedly made at the Grand Ducal workshop in Florence, the Opificio delle pietre dure. The central panel, depicting Orpheus charming the animals with his music, was a long-time favourite at this workshop. It already occurs at the centre of a cabinet made between 1606 and 1623 for Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Art of the Royal Court, no. 41) and a further plaque of Orpheus was incorporated into the decoration of the throne room or the 'Hall of Public Audiences' at the Red Fort in Delhi. Some of this furniture was made in Florence just like the Barberini cabinet, but sets of pietre dure panels of Orpheus together with smaller ones of animals having come to listen to him were amongst the most prized articles to be procured by visitors to Florence who occasionally had them set into cabinets after their return home. Full surviving sets - as seen here on this French example - are rare and only two further cabinets are known to incorporate these with slight variations: an Italian ebony and ebonised table cabinet dated to circa 1620 and now at the Detroit Institute of Arts (inv. 1994.77 and illustrated A. Giusti, Pietre Dure and the Art of the Florentine Inlay, London, 2006, pp. 168-9, ill. 138) as well as a Flemish ebony, ebonised and tortoiseshell-veneered cabinet-on-stand sold from the collections of Valerian Rybar and Jean-François Daigre, Christie's, Paris, 5 June 2003, lot 35. The most celebrated cabinet decorated with sumptuous Florentine pietre dure panels to have been offered at auction is of course the Badminton Cabinet. As the last great work of art to have been made in Florence under the Medici it was delivered to the 3rd Duke of Beaufort in 1732, about half a century after the conception of the March Cucci cabinet, and broke its own world auction record for a piece of furniture when it was sold at Christie's, London in December 2004 realising £19 million. The fact that Florentine plaques are employed on the present cabinet rather than French ones, as on the Alnwick cabinets, suggests that this cabinet was made early in Louis XIV's reign, before plaques produced at the Gobelins were available in any quantity. The many surfaces faced with various hardstones and the use of marble columns evoke the descriptions of the cabinets made by Cucci in the early 1660s.
THE MARQUETRY OF THE INTERIOR
A particularly noteworthy feature of the cabinet is the marquetry decoration to the inside of the door and the configuration of the space behind it, the caisson. Showing marked similarities to the marquetry found in the interior of Parisian ebony cabinets of the 1640s and 1650s, this is of obvious French manufacture, though heavily indebted to Flemish prototypes (cf. exh. cat. Un temps d'exubérance, Les arts décoratifs sous Louis XIII et Anne d'Autriche, Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 2002, p. 234, no. 136). With its pewter figure of Apollo playing his lyre below a military trophy, it clearly represents a slightly later phase of around 1660. The swags of laurel leaves suspended from lion's masks are closely echoed in the gilt bronze pendant swags headed by boys' heads on the cabinet's pediment. Such close coordination of work in different materials was only feasible in a Royal workshop, where various craftsmen worked to the specifications of a designer who controlled the production of the entire piece, in this case undoubtedly Le Brun. The unusually baroque disposition of the caisson, with its massing of rusticated columns, probably also owes its inspiration to this artist.
Significantly, the marquetry shows little resemblance to the many works attributed with more or less likelihood to Pierre Gole (Lunsingh Scheurleer, Pierre Gole, ébéniste de Louis XIV, passim). This strengthens the probability that Cucci was responsible for this cabinet; the two ébénistes are not known to have collaborated on any major works. Although Cucci is less well-known for his marquetry, he certainly was a most proficient practitioner of this art. One of his most prestigious commissions was for the panelling of the Petite Galerie at Versailles which was to be entirely executed in marquetry of brass on a ground of tortoiseshell and horn stained to resemble lapis lazuli, mounted with gilt bronze. Commenced in 1685, this work was never finished, but Cucci was nonetheless paid high amounts for having completed a large part of it (Demetrescu, op. cit. pp. 67-68).
The marquetry is closely related to that on a cabinet formerly in the collection of Dame Agatha Christie, sold at Christie's, London, 5 July 2007, lot 66. On this extraordinary and highly ambitious piece, the marquetry in pewter and green-stained horn on a ground of ebony covers almost the entire front. Although none of the motifs are exactly repeated, there can be little doubt that it is by the same marqueteur who was responsible for the decoration of the interior of the present cabinet. Again, it clearly stands apart from the various types of marquetry associated with Gole, and was unattributed at the time of sale.
There is also a marked resemblance between the stands of the March Cucci cabinet and the Agatha Christie cabinet. The superb figures of the four Seasons on the present piece are closely related to the caryatids supporting the Agatha Christie cabinet, both in their general poses and in the treatment of the hair and the draperies. These figures may conceivably be the work of Cucci's cousin, Philippe Caffieri, the father of the famous bronze-founder Jacques Caffieri and grandfather of the equally famous Philippe, and of the sculptor Jean-Jacques Caffieri. Another candidate might be Mathieu Lespagnandelle (161-1689), who was also employed at the Gobelins and who is known to have executed figured tables and stands. To him are attributed the candle stands symbolizing Summer and Autumn in the collection of the National Trust at Knole, Kent, whose tops with marquetry of pewter and brass are attributed to Gole, as well as the stand of the accompanying table (Lunsingh Scheurleer 2005, pp. 168-172).
Of clearly different character are the herm figures that adorn the stand of another Parisian cabinet mounted with Florentine pietre dure plaques, in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg (D. Alcouffe a.o., Il mobile francese dal Medioevo al 1925, Milan 1981, ill. on p. 54; Demetrescu, op. cit. ill. on p. 73). Occasionally also attributed to the Gobelins or even Cucci, this is of less adventurous shape and less integrated aspect. Both this piece and the Agatha Christie cabinet testify to the fact that the production of rich and ambitious cabinets in late 17th century Paris is a subject about which much more may be found out.
We are grateful to Dr. Reinier Baarsen for his help in preparing this catalogue note.
TECHNICAL NOTES ON THE CONSTRUCTION
Combining exquisite Florentine pietre dure plaques with opulent gilt bronze mounts, some intricately worked in repoussé, as well as elaborate marquetry and superbly modelled figurative carving, this cabinet is not only representative of the magnificent cabinets produced in Paris in the late 17th century, but also reflects the skills of Italian, French and Flemish craftsmen drawn together at the Gobelins workshops.
Constructed largely in pine and veneered in amaranth, ash, ebonised pearwood and tortoiseshell the cabinet is fitted with fourteen oak-lined drawers, each constructed with dove-tailed joints, as typical of French cabinet-making of the late 17th century. The stand is conformingly constructed of pine planks, joined to double thickness in some areas, with the platform veneered in ash and the carved sections gilt, bronzed and ebonised. The back uprights had previously been re-inforced with a further plank, subsequently removed, and the underside of the stand shows some cut-outs of a very early adaptation, possibly cut by the local craftsmen when positioning and securing the cabinet in situ. There appear to be several stages of retouching and partial regilding of the carved elements of the stand. Interestingly, the integrally-carved bases of the six figurative supports reveal traces of an earlier blue decoration beneath and paint analysis has identified this as a layer of smalt blue, typical of 17th century decoration and similarly found on some of the architectural schemes by Cucci imitating lapis lazuli.
There appear to have been two main dates of restoration of the cabinet, with one clearly documented by Johan Christian Linning's dated signature beneath one of the drawers. It was almost certainly at this time that the ormolu eagle was given the silver-backed lapis medallion to celebrate its Royal provenance. At that point the eagle appears to have been moved and its supporting bracket changed and possibly re-positioned. The central cupboard door, enclosing a stage-like interior decorated with green-stained horn, ebony and ivory, shows some associated re-shaping to its upper edge. Probably at that time the central ormolu bust of the cresting, which appears to date from the mid-18th century, might have been added to replace something or fill a void created by moving the eagle. The gilt-brass repoussé borders to the stretchers of the stand bear similarities to such decoration found on Swedish mirrors and it is likely that this too was added in Stockholm in the 18th century. The sides are centred by Griotte or Campan-like textured grey marble plaques of dimensions similar to the central Orpheus plaque, suggesting the sides too might have initially been intended to hold pietre dure panels. This would have, however, been highly unusual given the harmony of the Orpheus plaque surrounded by animal plaques as well as the frontal nature of the cabinet. When removed there is no evidence to suggest any changes, although it is conceivable that they could have been replaced at the time of the late 18th century restoration in Sweden.
A second stage of restoration, most probably in the late 19th or early 20th century and most certainly before the 1923 sale, included some minor securing of elements of the cresting and stand as well as an addition of sledge-shaped plinths beneath each of the lion-carved feet. Probably at this time a small number of missing mounts, including one of the cushion-shaped repoussé mounts to the left of the eagle, the escutcheon mounts to two of the drawers and the floral rosettes to the lower panels of each side have been replaced, re-casting these from other mounts on the cabinet. As visible from the 1923 catalogue illustration the only changes since that date appear to be some minor repositioning to some of the mounts, such as the floral sprays to the frieze above the carved supports, some of which appear to have been turned, as well as the drapery and floral garlands held by the putti to the gallery, which might have been interchanged between the putti.