Precious caskets appear to have been popular among European royalty and nobility from the Renaissance to the Baroque period, and it is thought that they were often intended as betrothal or wedding gifts. They were made from precious metals and inset with engraved rock crystal panels, such as the Cassetta Farnese in the Museo Nazionale di Capo di Monte, or from wood decorated with mother-of-pearl, stained ivory and other inlays. Caskets with engraved glass panels became more popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and were often used to keep items for personal adornment.
The existence of relatively few signed, initialled or documented pieces, and the itinerant nature of these craftsmen makes a firm attribution for the present casket problematic. The style of engraving and the subjects depicted, are similar to examples related to Nuremberg glass engraving, especially that associated with Georg Schwanhardt and his followers. The cover is engraved with a huntsman on horseback pursuing a stag with hounds and an attendant, in the distance a stag is pursued by four hounds crossing a stream. The long panel to the front of the casket is engraved with a lion flanked by two equestrian figures hunting with spears, with a fallen lion to one side. The rectangular panel to the back of the casket is engraved with hounds bringing down a wild bull with huntsmen to one side. The panels to either side are engraved with a wild boar hunt and a bear hunt.
The rectangular glass panel sold anonymously in these Rooms on 3rd June 1986, lot 237, appears to be by a very close hand. This plaque was discovered with five others mounted in a 19th century lead frame (lots 232-237 in the sale). The five panels were attributed to the engraver Caspar Lehmann. The final panel offered, engraved with the figure '8' (perhaps a hidden cypher for 'H', the eighth letter of the alphabet and initial of Hedwig, Consort of Christian II of Saxony, whom three of the panels are monogrammed for) above three crowned lions. This panel was not attributed to Lehmann, however it is interesting to note the similarity between the rendering of the groups of stones and grasses in the foreground and the rendering of the lions on the present casket.
Casper Lehmann (1563?-1622) is widely regarded as the dominant founding figure in wheel-engraving on glass. He is closely associated with the Court of Emperor Rudolph II and like many skilled artisans of the time, he found work as a stone-engraver and polisher to the Imperial Court. Having served his apprentiship in Munich until 1587-8, he was drawn to Prague, receiving his first payment there in 15881. In 1601 he was appointed 'Imperial Chamberlain' (Kaiserlicher Kammerdiener) and 'Court Lapidary' (Kammeredelsteinschleifer)2. He worked in Dresden for the court of Christian II of Saxony between 1606-8 before returning to Prague with the title 'Imperial Gem Engraver and Glass Engraver'3. It is at about this time that the only signed and dated example of Lehmann's work was executed, the 1605 allegorical beaker made for Emperor Rudolph's Chancellor, Sigismund of Losenstein and his wife, Susanna of Rogendorf.4
In 1609 Lehmann received his famous Imperial privilege to allow him alone to engrave glass in the Empire. He was joined by a relative, Paul Lehmann in 1617 and by Georg Schwanhardt (1601-67) in 1618. Beset by troubles and debt, Lehmann died in 1622 and the privilege passed to Schwanhardt who returned to his native city of Nuremberg.
Schwanhardt founded a dynasty of talented glass engravers, his two sons, Georg and Heinrich, his three daughters, Sophia, Maria and Susanna and his daughters-in-law all became glass engravers; even his house maid became an engraver. Like their forebears, no signed examples of Heinrich Schwanhardt's work exist, though one of his contemporaries, Herman Schwinger signed several pieces. Nuremberg remained dominant in the field of glass-engraving into the early 18th century. Particularly identifiable are the tall multi-knopped presentation goblets and the cylindrical beakers on bun feet which were transformed into objects of beauty by the city's engravers and enamellers.
The engraved panels on the present casket are each almost certainly derived from a graphic source. Like the maiolicari of Italy, glass engravers and enamellers would take inspiration from printed scenes and adapt them to fit the scale and shape of their 'canvas'. Dishes and vessels may be decorated with faithful copies of hunting or history scenes or would have figurative elements taken from print sources, either copied in part or knitted together from several sources, with other areas springing from the artist's imagination. It is interesting to note the use of the same engraved source on a Nuremberg hausmalerei fayence tankard in the Museo del Castello Sforzesco, illustrated by Helmut Bosch in his seminal work.6 The graphic sources are taken from the prolific engraver Antonio Tempesta and his near contemporary Matthäus Merian the Elder. One panel of the present casket corresponds to a Tempesta engraving.
The subject of the portrait, Johann George I of Saxony would appear to be beyond doubt when compared to Franz Luycx's portrait (1652). Johann Georg succeeded to the Electorate of Saxony in 1611 on the death of his older brother, Christian II, and his rule was defined by The Thirty Years War (1618-48). Like many of his contemporaries, he was a keen huntsman dedicating much of his time to sporting pursuits.
1. Olga Drahotová, 'Comments on Casper Lehmann, Central European Glass and Hard Stone Engraving', Journal of Glass Studies (1981), p. 34.
2. Professor Dr. Franz-Adrian Dreier, 'Glass Imitating Rock Crystal and Precious Stones - 16th and 17th Century Wheel Engraving and Gold Ruby Glass', The Glass Circle (1987), no. 6, p. 8.
3. Robert J. Charleston, Masterpieces of Glass (New York, 1980), p. 135.
4. Olga Drahotov©a, ibid, p. 35, Fig. 1.
5. Helmut Bosch, Die Nürnberger Hausmaler (Munich, 1984), pp. 268-9, no. 382.