This rare Dresden bureau-cabinet from Schloss Kuppritz, a newly-discovered masterpiece of European furniture-making, was almost certainly made in 1740-1742 as the Meisterstück of Johann Chistoph Hesse, who went on to become court cabinet-maker and died in 1776. Its rich veneers and jewel-like ormolu mounts are exceptional and place it among the most splendid pieces of German 18th Century furniture to come on the market in recent years.
FROM THE 'GOLDENER ENGEL' TO SCHLOSS KUPPRITZ
This monumental bureau-cabinet was most probably acquired by Johann Christian Kindt for the 'Goldener Engel', in the centre of Dresden's old town. This celebrated hotel, in a Dresden baroque townhouse, attracted such illustrious guests as Friedrich Schiller (1785) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1810).
In 1816, Kindt's son, Christian Heinrich, sold the 'Goldener Engel' to acquire two large estates in the Oberlausitz in Saxony, Schloss Kuppritz and Hochkirch, and at the same time requested from King Augustus III to be elevated into the nobility. Indeed, on 23 November 1816 he was granted his 'Adelsdiplom'. The furniture from the 'Goldener Engel' was subsequently transferred to Schloss Kuppritz, including the present bureau-cabinet. When von Kindt died childless in December 1874, his estate passed to three nephews of his wife Amalie Auguste (d. 1875). One of them, Rudolf Elwir Hähnel, great-grandfather of the current owner, was already working as general inspector on his uncle's estates; he inherited both Kuppritz and Hochkirch. His daughter Maria (1873-1923) married the Royal Saxon major Gustav Aemil von Loeben, and in 1930 the magnificent bureau-cabinet left Saxony with their daughter Maria-Luise Bergsträsser (1895-1942).
Schloss Kuppritz, between the towns Bautzen and Löbau, is a typically northern European baroque building which still exists today, though altered several times. At Kuppritz the bureau-cabinet stood in the 'Blauer Saal' between 1816 and 1930. On a photograph taken before 1925 the cabinet can be seen next to a grand piano, above which hang the portraits of Johann Christian Kindt, his son Christian Heinrich von Kindt, who had brought the cabinet to Kuppritz, and his wife Amalie Auguste.
In his 1910 description of the Schloss, the Dresden art historian and curator Cornelius Gurlitt (1850-1938) mentions the bureau-cabinet as follows:
"Prächtiger Rokokoschrank. Seitlich korinthische Pilaster. Treffliche Beschläge in Rankenform; Schlösser in Kartuschenform. Angebliches Meisterstück 1 in Dresden gefertigt".
(C. Gurlitt, ibid, p.287)
DATING AND RELATED PIECES
Gurlitt did not illustrate the cabinet and neither Rudolf von Arps-Aubert nor Gisela Haase knew about it when publishing their works on Dresden furniture in 1939 and 1983 respectively, as it had been moved from Schloss Kuppritz to Munich in 1930. According to Hans von Loeben, the last owner of Schloss Kuppritz, a secret compartment within the cabinet contained the Meisterbrief of a Dresden cabinet-maker of around 1. Sadly, this does not now survive with the piece, but the reference to it is obviously a vital clue to the history of this bureau-cabinet. Gurlitt surely knew of it, as is clear from his dating the cabinet in his description, but he may not have seen the certificate himself as he does not mention the cabinet maker's name.
There are a number of comparable pieces known, all executed in the late 1730s and 1740s. Most of them were probably made as Meisterstücke but this is usually not documented. Even among them, the present bureau-cabinet stands out through its grandly architectural form and its splendid jewel-like mounts.
One of these pieces, of circa 1735, of identical height and very similar outline and proportions, though less ornately fitted and mounted, was recorded by Arps-Aubert in Schloss Moritzburg (illustrated in R. von Arps-Aubert, Sächsische Barockmöbel 1700-1770, Berlin 1939, p.57). Another one of circa 1, in the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, shows similar constructional and decorative elements, despite being fitted with only one mirrored door (illustrated G. Haase, Dresdener Möbel des 18. Jahrhunderts, Leipzig, 1983, cat.92). A further cabinet, signed by Johann Gottfried Leuchte and made by him as his Meisterstück in 1744-46, is recorded by Arps-Aubert in Schloss Moritzburg (illustrated R. von Arps-Aubert, ibid, cat.58). It displays very similar proportions and decorative elements with its doors and angles mounted with closely related composite capitals.
With the exception of Leuchte's masterpiece, one distinctive constructional feature most of these Dresden bureau-cabinets have in common is the sloped and S-shaped fall-front, which, when opened, fits exactly into the counter-shaped profile above the commode section, a structurally and aesthetically ingenious construction. They furthermore share the gently curved knee-hole in the commode section. The brass-inlay and brass mouldings that feature so prominently on the present bureau cabinet can be paralleled on only two other cabinets: Leuchte's 1746 masterpiece and the celebrated example in full-blown rococo style from the collections of the 6th Earl of Rosebery at Mentmore, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, which has been attributed to Michael Kimmel (1714-1794) (illustrated in C. Wilk ed., Western furniture 1350 to the present day, Victoria & Albert Museum 1996, pp. 98-99).
This type of furniture, with a commode base, a secretaire or bureau middle section and a cabinet superstructure was created in England in the late 17th Century and soon adopted in northern Europe, while in Dresden a characteristic variant developed. The bureau-cabinets from Dresden, often fitted with mirrored doors with plates of local manufacture, were the most costly items of furniture and focus-point in the decoration of Royal Saxon residences and aristocratic palaces. They served not only as bureau-cabinets but also as 'Schenk Tische' to keep bottles, glasses and other precious items as well as 'Putz-Schränke', being used as ladies dressing tables. The inventories of two of the Royal residences, Moritzburg and Pillnitz, of 1733 and 1734 respectively, list over 70 such 'englische Schreibschränke'. The fashionable description 'English' of course used as a reference to this specific type of desk, rather than the place of manufacture; above all, the term was used by German cabinet makers describing the high standards of quality they worked towards. With the emerging rococo style of the early 1740s the shape of the Dresden cabinet started to differ more from the straight lines of the English prototype.
The present bureau-cabinet demonstrates this new fashion particularly with its precious and jewel-like mounts, showing the full spectrum of rococo ornament. In particular the exquisite 'love-winged' feathered rocaille handles to the interior drawers, can be linked to the early rococo carvings of the court-carver Joseph Deibel (1716-93) and to the designs included in the ornamental engravings of Jeremias Wachsmuth (1711-71). Deibel, cabinet maker and sculptor from Munich, and Oberlandbaumeister Johann Christoph Knöffel, played a significant role in the development of the rococo style in Dresden. It was Deibel who, in 1740, carved the large double-winged doors for the Stadtpalais of Count Brühl, the first display in the city of asymmetric rocaille, feathered leaves, C-scrolls and naturalistic carved foliage and flowerheads, which also embellish the present bureau-cabinet.
When the Dresden guild of master cabinet-makers introduced an 'English' Schreibschrank as Meisterstück in 1733-'34, they were among the first guilds to do so in Germany.
Dresden's city archives list the names of cabinet-makers who applied for the title of master in the years 1740-42. An aspiring cabinet-maker would be listed up to three times, first when applying for the 'Mass zum Riss', the approval of the initial draft, then again when the permission was given to start the 'Muthjahr', the year to produce the masterpiece, and finally when the finished piece was presented to the masters of the guild.
In the years 1740-'42 the records mention the names of the following, relatively unknown, cabinet-makers:
- Johann Gottfried Ingendorf, who imigrated from Poland and worked for the highly regarded court cabinet-maker Peter Hoese (1686-1761),
- Christian Jachmann, who does not seem to be recorded again and
- Peter Bedonig, who later worked for Count Brühl.
Additionally, two celebrated cabinet-makers are mentioned:
- Johann Michael Leuchte (d. 1759) from Berlin, who, as mentioned above, applied for his 'Muthjahr' in 1742 but only made his masterpiece in 1744-'46 and
- Johann Christoph Hesse.
JOHANN CHRISTOPH HESSE
Hesse, who became court cabinet-maker in 1761 and whose name can be found throughout the accounts of the Dresden court, had served his 'Gesellenjahre' in the workshop of the Dresden cabinet maker Johann Heinrich Graff. He received his 'Mass zum Riss' on 21 March 1740, with instructions detailing measurements and the architectural order, which stated he had to design his piece 'nach der Composito'. Only two months later, on 23 May, Hesse presented his 'Meisterriss' and was allowed to start work on his masterpiece, which he presents to the jury of Zunftmeistern on 9 September 1742. The records for this date include, next to a minor reprimand for not complying with some of the requested measurements, a rebuke for spending 2 years and four months on the piece rather than the required year. This particular circumstance precisely fits the tradition that the present bureau-cabinet contained a Meisterbrief of exactly those years 1740-1742, strongly supporting the identification of this exceptional piece as Hesse's Meisterstück.
We are grateful to Dr. Gisela Haase, Dresden, and Mr. Thomas Boller, Zürich, for the rediscovery and research of the Kuppritz cabinet