The present box is one of the finest examples of Dutch gold chasing. As a goldsmith Jean Saint was responsible for the box itself, while the decoration on the cover was executed by a highly gifted gold chaser.
On the cover Venus is depicted mourning at the tomb of Adonis, while she rejects the feigned sadness of Mars. The scene is not borrowed from Ovid's Metamorphosis, but from a lesser known version of the story of Venus and Adonis in which Mars is responsible for Adonis' death. The interest in this Mars-version in western art has been marginal.
According to Ovid's Metamorphosis Adonis was an extremely handsome man and Venus' lover. Although Venus warned Adonis of the dangers of the hunt and told him to use caution when he was out in the forest, Adonis was killed by a boar. Venus, hearing his lamentations, returned to Adonis and mourned for him as he lay dying. There upon Venus sprinkled nectar over his blood, from which the red anemone sprouts.
During the 18th century the major Dutch source on the Mars-version was Gerard de Lairesse's Groot Schilderboek (1701 and later publications). In the second book De Lairesse draws up the rules for painting small and large-figured scenes and illustrates the different uses of light and shadow on the basis of two illustrations. The subject of both illustrations is the scene that is reproduced on this box. These prints were executed by Guilliam van der Gouwen after designs by Philip Tideman (Fig. 7). The twelfth chapter of the sixth book deals with the landscape and is fully dedicated to depictions of Venus and Adonis.
Notwithstanding the publication of the Groot Schilderboek the Mars-version seems to have been limited to Gerard de Lairesse and a small circle of artists working in Amsterdam. The following works are known. De Lairesse's assistant Philip Tideman made a painting of Venus mourning at the tomb of Adonis, while she turns down the feigned sadness of Mars for Hopetoun House. Louis Fabrice Dubourg, an apprentice of De Lairesse, made a drawing of Venus and Adonis watched by the jealous Mars (Print room, Leiden). A follower of Isaac de Moucheron made a drawing of the same subject (Groninger Museum).
The design for the scene on the cover of the box was clearly influenced De Lairesse's Groot Schilderboek. The composition is based on the mentioned prints in the second book (Fig.8) and the designer clearly followed De Lairesse's accompanying recommendations. In accordance he lets the light play an important role and limited the number of artifacts in this small-scale scene. Besides he omitted the shield and spear of Mars and most of the attributes of Venus and Amor. Even the personification of Jealousy, whom in Van der Gouwen's print appears from behind the commemorative column, is left out. However, the designer did follow De Lairesse's suggestion of letting a red anemone sprout from Adonis' urn.
The treatment of the composition and the choice of the subject, which seems to have had a very limited range, makes an Amsterdam origin very plausible. The superb quality of the chasing and the French influence, which is found in the Berainesque cartouche, points in the direction of the circle of Huguenot gold chasers. Saint seems to have maintained business relations with some of the most gifted gold chasers of his time. Two of them are known by name. The first is Philippe Metayer with whom in 1727/28 Saint made a snuffbox with a chased cover representing King Minos judged by Apollo (Formerly on loan to the Goud, Zilver en Klokkenmuseum, 1982; Sold in these rooms 9 September 1982, lot 223). The second is Saint's son-in-law Francois Thuret (1716-after 1751), with whom in 1749 he made the tortoise and gold box that was represented by the West India Company to Prince William IV (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). Unfortunately the present chaser did not sign his work, but he definitely must have worked in the circle of these highly gifted artists
R.J. Baarsen, "Louis en Philippe Metayer, Beker met deksel van goud, Amsterdam, 1754", Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum (1989), pp. 246-249. R.J. Baarsen (Ed.), Rococo in Nederland, Amsterdam-Zwolle, 2001.
B.J. van Benthem et al. (Ed.), Goud en zilver met Amsterdamse keuren, Zwolle-Amsterdam, 2003.
M.L. de Iongh, "Twee gouden bokalen door Louis en Philippe Metayer", Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum (1982), pp. 115-131.
G. de Lairesse, Groot Schilderboek, Amsterdam, 1740, pp. 132-134, 383-399.
J.R. de Lorm, Amsterdams Goud en Zilver, Zwolle-Amsterdam, 1999.
J.W.H.J.M. Noldus, "De edelsmid Philippe Metayer en zijn ontwerper Louis Fabrice Dubourg", Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum (1985), pp. 226-232.
B. Skinner, Philip Tideman and the Allegorical Decorations at Hopetoun House", The Burlington Magazine 106 (1964), pp. 368-373.
J. van Tatenhove, "De jaloerse Mars. Nederlandse uitbeeldingen van een minder bekende versie van het Venus en Adonis-verhaal", Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek I, 1982, pp. 385-402.