Jean-Frédéric Baer (1721-1795)
Although Baer signed his name on the cup in German, current usage is to employ the French version of Christian names for Strasbourg personages during periods of French administration and this practice is followed in the footnote below.
Jean-Frédéric Baer, the maker of this superb cup that must rank as almost certainly the greatest work of rococo silver made in Strasbourg, is virtually unknown. Indeed, was it not for the details given below it would be assumed that he had merely added his signature to the work of a more prominent maker. The basic facts of Baer's life were first recorded by the late Hans Haug, the distinguished expert on Strasbourg silver who spent at least sixty years studying the subject but never uncovered this major addition to its 18th century silver. In the catalogue of the exhibition, Le siècle d'or de l'orfèvrerie de Strasbourg held at Kugel in Paris in 1964, he noted that Baer became a master of the l'Echasse, in 1746. He is recorded as the son of Jean-Daniel I Baer who himself became a master in 1716. He was the brother of Jean-Daniel II (master in 1743) and the father of another silversmith, Jean-Frédéric II (master in 1778). He was warden of the guild in 1770.
Recent research in the Strasbourg archives by Emmanuel Fritsch has revealed Jean-Frédéric I was born in that city on the 6 March 1721. He married in Strasbourg, Charlotte Louise Wagner on 3 March 1765 (fig. 1) and died in the same city on the 25 May 1795, just twenty days after his 29 year old son of the same name (b. 8 February 1766 - d. 3 May 1795) mentioned above. He had two other sons, Jean-Jacques (b. 24 December 1767 - d. 30 January 1776) and Jean-Daniel III, a watchmaker, who survived him (b. 29 September 1769 - d. 19 December 1847).
Additional and important information was given by Nagler writing as long ago as 1835 (op. cit.). In translation the paragraph on Baer reads:
'an artistic silversmith. Urged by his parents he worked for a banker in London whom he left soon to follow more artistic pursuits. His genius was best shown by the fascinating machines he invented, one of which was the guillochir (i.e. engine-turning) machine. He produced a silver cup decorated with various historic subjects and now owned by the Mainz magistrate Bollermann. The Paris Academy honoured this artifact before the Revolution with a special bulletin.' (Christie's italics).
Baer's other surviving work is, unfortunately, extremely rare. The Kugel exhibition catalogue (op. cit., Supplément, nos. 206 and 207) lists the only two pieces that appear to have been published. The first is a silver-gilt dessert-knife chased with shells with the maker's name in full as on the present cup, that was then in the collection of J. Pétain. The second is a three-colour gold sealing-wax case chased with musical trophies. It is possible that the latter was actually by Jean-Frederic Buttner who not only has the same initials as Baer but also became a master in the same year, and who specialised in making gold boxes.
The masterpiece of Jean-Frédéric Baer
The 1745 records of the l'Echasse which are conserved in the Strasbourg city archives, state that Jean-Frédéric Baer, unmarried silversmith (son of Jean-Daniel Baer also a silversmith and gentleman of Strasbourg) was presented to the Corporation in order to have the designs for his masterpiece accepted. It was also stated that the silversmith had to execute the work on the premises of one of the three judges who were to examine the piece, Jean-Daniel Ott.
The records for the following year, loosely translated, state:
'on the 25th February 1746, Johann Friderics Bäer, unmarried silversmith, a native of Strasbourg, presents his masterpiece (the designs for which were accepted on September 30th 1745) in order to be accepted as a Master. The three judges, after a long examination, affirmed that, even if there were minor defects such as small holes which were the result of the three-sided form, the piece was excellent, in particular the chasing and setting (of the panels) and that it was executed artistically. Thus, after taking an oath that he alone had made his masterpiece, he was to be considered a Master.' (fig. 2)
The only other extant Strasbourg masterpiece is a silver-gilt cup and cover by Jean-Daniel Bury (H. Haug, L'orfévrerie de Strasbourg, Paris, 1978, cat. no., 80). In the records of the l'Echasse relating to this maker, it is clear that a silversmith had to be unmarried to be accepted as a Master but, in his particular case, this rule seems to have been waived on his second application in 1732. It is interesting to note that a 1773 inscription on Bury's masterpiece indicates that it was left back to the silversmith's son by a previous owner.
It is no coincidence that both makers chose to make their masterpieces of similar form. It was noted in the records of the L'Echasse, on 12 March 1712, that, rather than the existing three objects, a silversmith should submit just one of them, a standing cup with cover as his masterpiece. The form selected reflects the Franco-German cultural history of Strasbourg. Standing cups and covers were, of course, widespread in Germany from the 15th until the mid 17th century and continued to be a form favoured for masterpieces by the conservative goldsmith's guilds of a number of German towns well into the 18th Century. By this date, however, standing-cups were very out of fashion and this may be a possible reason that Baer's cup remained unsold and in his possession. In Louis XV's France standing cups are extremely rare in the 15th-18th centuries and virtually unknown outside Alsace.
The central portrait bust on the cover of the present cup may be that of Baer's father or, perhaps more likely, of Jean-Daniel Ott in whose workshop he was working and who was to judge the piece. The self-portrait to the left of the bust showing the silversmith surrounded by the tools of his trade is possibly unique. These images, combined with Classical Gods as well as military and naval battles, are extraordinary. They are surely best explained by Baer's desire to produce a tour-de-force that demonstrated his exceptional technical skills. The unusual construction of the Baer cup with detachable silver-gilt liners to the bowl and cover was clearly designed to allow for examination by the judges to see how the piece was made.
It is also interesting to note that the cup is unmarked, which naturally would be the case given that Baer had not yet entered his mark. Baer's chased signature on the cup with the AE conjoined thus, is almost identical to one of three marks using his surname in full that he registered with the Strasbourg guild apparently in 1746 (illustrated by J. Helft, Le poinçon des provinces françaises, Paris, 1968, pl. XVII, left of line 10 and H. Haug, L'orfévrerie de Strasbourg, Paris, 1978, p. 6 of the maker's mark section, left of line 10) (fig. 3).
The Paris Academy
A remarkable feature of this cup is the appearance of the chased signature, dated 1746, in the cover decoration and the engraved signature, dated ten years later, on the base. It has not as yet proved possible to trace the special bulletin published by the Paris Academy mentioned by Nagler (op. cit.). Still it seems that one possible explanation for the second signature is that Baer added it in a more visible position on the plain base at the front of the cup at the time of this Academy exhibition.
The portrait of Jean-Frédéric Baer
Although the identity of the artist of the portrait of Baer remains unknown, the silversmith is recorded as being connected with at least two contemporary artists in Strasbourg. Jean-Daniel Heimlich (1740-1796) drew up the inventory of 55 paintings, drawings and engravings in Baer's possession at the time of the latter's death, while the work of Christoph von Bemmell (1707-1782), featured in the silversmith's collection. Indeed, the inventory shows Baer owned three landscapes, five other paintings and four drawings by the latter artist. However, von Bemmell seems mainly to have been a landscape artist and therefore unlikely to be the author, while Heimlich is recorded as a portraitist. Although at first sight, Heimlich then seems an attractive hypothesis as the author of the Baer portrait, the engraved signature on the base does not appear in the meticulous rendering of the cup. This suggests, of course, that the painting pre-dates 1756 which would make Heimlich too young to be the artist.
Among the paintings listed in Baer's collection are two battle scenes which it is tempting to suggest might conceivably have been the design source for two of those on the cup. While the portrait is not specified it may have been given away previously, presumably to his son. Alternatively, it may have been either missed or, as there is no number 14 on the list, deliberately removed from it as a 'family' piece.
This painting is, in any event, an important addition to the very few extant portraits of silversmiths with examples of their own work from the mid-eighteenth century. The best known of these are Nicolas de Largillière's superb portrait of Thomas Germain and his wife, now in the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon and that of Paul Crespin attributed to Pierre Subleyras, circa 1726, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
The will of Jean-Frédéric Baer
Although Baer died in 1795, aged 74, he wrote his will, when ill, over twenty years before. On 28 March 1773 he added a codicil to this will which survives in the Strasbourg archives (fig. 4). Loosely translated this codicil reads that he;
'instructs and promises that his masterpiece, consisting of a three-sided silver cup, should be kept in the late Professor Schoepflin's library at this very University in his perpetual memory'.
This codicil was in fact annulled by a second later codicil dated 20 May 1780.
Following Baer's death in 1794, an inventory was drawn up which included a section by Baer's neighbour and fellow goldsmith, Jean-Geoffroy Stahl who was appointed to list all the gold and silver plate and silversmithing tools (fig. 5). Under the heading:
'Werkzeug und Waar zur Silberarbeiter Kunst gehörig'
(Tools and ware related to silversmithing)
the cup is listed as:
'1. silb. Pocal so des Verstorb. Meisterstuck, wiegt 4.M. 10.L. 9.den. 154 (livres) 5 (sous)
(1 silver cup, the deceased's masterpiece)'
The weight of 4 M(arks) 10 L(lots) 9D(enarii) converts to approximately 50 grams less than the present weight. This may be the result of inaccurate weighing or, possibly, the liner to the cover and rosette (53 grams) was not included. It is interesting to note that the inventory includes specific mention of a guillochir or engine-turning machine, presumably one of his own invention as mentioned by Nagler (op. cit.):
'1. Drehbank s(amt) zugehörd(en), und guillochir machine
(A lathe and its attachment, an engine-turning machine)
Jean-Daniel Schoepflin (1694-1771)
Schoepflin was one of the great historians of the 18th century (fig. 6). Born in Salzburg, he studied in Basle and then spent eight years training under Kuhn in Strasbourg. In 1725 the Tsarina asked him to come to St. Petersburg but he decided to stay in Strasbourg as the city agreed to pay his expenses to tour Europe for two years. He visited intellectual circles in France, Italy and England. At the request of the French government he handed over a record of his experiences in England on his return to France.
The publications of his historical researches were well received and he was made an associate member of the Academie des Inscriptions in 1730. In spite of many offers, he rarely left Strasbourg and worked there on his magnum opus, a record of the history of Alsace. In 1751 he presented this work to Louis XV to whom he had been official historian and councillor since 1740. Although speculation, it is possible that it was through Schoepflin's influence that Baer was able to exhibit his cup in one of the Paris Academies and it was thus a debt of gratitude that lead Baer initially to leave the cup in his honour.
Schoepflin was elected to numerous academies in Europe including those in Florence, St. Petersburg and Mannheim where he was president. He was also a member of the Royal Society in London. He left his vast library along with his cabinet of antiquities to the City of Strasbourg who in turn gave them to the University. The contents of his cabinet of antiquities, which almost certainly included curios as well, were destroyed during the Franco-German war of 1870-1. The University itself was suppressed following the French Revolution.
Jean-Baptiste Bollermann (1776-1852)
Athough not a great deal is known of the Mainz collector, Jean-Baptiste Bollermann, who acquired this cup in the early nineteenth century, a fascinating watercolour by Jacob Hoetz showing a dealer offering a painting, misdescribed as by Holbein, to the collector remains in the present owner's possession (fig. 7). The painting being shown to Bollermann is a painted portrait of the Emperor Charles V apparently signed by Hans Sebald Beham with his monogram, rather than by Holbein, and dated 1529 in Roman numerals. This date is two years earlier than the very similar engraved portrait of Emperor Charles V by Hans Sebald's brother, Barthel (G. Pauli, Barthel Beham, Strasbourg, 1911, no. 90).
This painting was surely purchased by Bollermann as it seems extremely improbable that he would have had himself depicted being shown a painting that did not end up in his collection. After his death Bollermann's paintings, no fewer than 567 of them, were put up for auction. An advertisement for the sale is interesting in that it gives a clue to the period Bollermann acquired many of his works of art. 'The testator', it reads, 'purchased these excellent works of art mostly at the conclusion of the former and the beginning of the present century, and only the breaking up of many a rich gallery of pictures at that time offered the possibility of purchasing so numerous, rare and precious a collection'.
The misattribution to Holbein appears to have continued. Lot 4 in the 'Catalogue of the late Mr. J.B.Bollermann's Gallery of Pictures in Mayence' sold on the 5 September, 1853 and held 'in the house of the testator, (at) Mittlere Bleich, Lit. E, (no.) 132' was catalogued as 'A portrait of a Nobleman,' by Hans Holbein, Junior. This and a number of other paintings appear to have been bought back by the family. It reappears on an inventory list drawn up by his son-in-law in 1878, a year after his marriage into the family. The inventory includes, again as no. 4, a painting with the same attribution and description as in the earlier sale catalogue.
The inventory also includes both the portrait of the silversmith and the silver cup:
After no. 551,
line 5 'Portrait Silberschmidt Baer' valued at 100 Reichhmarks
After no. 567 'Silberner Kelch von Johann Baer Silberschmidt aus Strassburg i E (im Elsass) Versichert mit m. 6000'
Opposite the latter description and insurance figure is a second figure of 9000 Reichmarks. This appears to be probably the cost of buying it back from the estate on Bollermann's death 25 years earlier.
(Christie's would like to thank Emmanuel Fritsch for his immense help with this catalogue entry. It is his research in the Strasbourg archives that has revealed virtually the entire history of this cup in the 18th century as well as the identities of the possible painters of Baer's portrait. We are indebted to Dr. Bernard Heitmann for his comments on the continued use by German guilds of standing cups and covers as masterpieces, well into the 18th century).