This spectacular casket, decorated with Kangxi period porcelain plaques enamelled with landscapes, flowering branches and birds in the Imari colour palette, was part of the collections of Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine and featured in the 1781 sales following his death. It is incredibly similar to another such casket, of virtually identical proportions and construction, though mounted in silver rather than gilt bronze, which was also in the collections of Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine and now in the Imperial apartments of the Hofburg Museum in Vienna.
CHARLES-ALEXANDRE DE LORRAINE
Charles-Alexandre (1712-1780) was the youngest son of Leopold, Duke of Lorraine and brother of Emperor Franz I, and of Elisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans, niece of Louis XIV known until her marriage as Madame Royale. With the outbreak of the Silesian Wars in 1740, his sister-in-law, Empress Maria-Theresa appointed him Field-Marshal and head of the Austrian forces. His military reputation was further enhanced with the successful campaigns of 1743 against the French and the Bavarian troops. In the following year, Charles-Alexandre married Marianne of Austria, the sister of Maria-Theresa, who appointed them joint Governor-General of the Netherlands. Despite the early death of his wife, his government was marked by a series of popular reforms and a deep affection from the people he ruled over. He died on 4 July 1780.
The entry in the 1781 sale catalogue of his collection describes lot 283, the first entry under the sub-heading 'Differentes especes de Porcelaine garnies de bronze & quelques piece garnies d'argent.', as:
- 283. Une table avec quatre pieds en colonnes surmontée d'une cassette Japon, les pieds, la table & la cassette, sont de plusieurs pièces de porcelaine, assorties & réunié par de garnitures de bronze qui servent en même-temps d'ornamens.
The 1781 description lists the casket together with a stand, to which it would have been secured with two long bolts, which are set within the short sides of the casket and only accessible on opening the lid. These bolts are still in existence today and can similarly be found in the casket that is now in the Hofburg in Vienna. The caskets also share the beautifully constructed wooden liner which lifts out when fully open. While the present casket can be identified as that sold under lot 283 in the 1781 sale, the casket now in Vienna does not seem to have been included in the auction of his collections and might have returned to Vienna with a member of the Habsburg-Lorraine family.
It was probably in the 19th century that the casket came to England. William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872), had inherited a substantial art collection formed by James, 1st Earl of Lonsdale (1736-1802), of whom his father, William (for whom the earldom was revived in 1807), was the heir. Lonsdale formed a major collection of French furniture and pictures and also bought antiquities. He was part of the circle of enlightened connoisseur-collectors at the beginning of the 19th century with a passion for the ancien régime, grouped around George, Prince of Wales, later George IV, who had been a friend since childhood. Lonsdale's collection was arranged at Lowther Castle, rebuilt on an expensive scale by Robert Smirke for his father. The casket remained with the Earls of Lonsdale until it was sold on instructions of Caroline, Countess of Lonsdale.