The present casket is a tour de force of ivory carving, not only are the reliefs are incredibly detailed, the decorative elements show off all the skills of the ivory carver, having various pierced motifs, as well as three-dimensional ornaments and relief carving. This is all complement by an extraodinarily finely carved relief portrait of King Wilhelm I of Württemburg applied to the reverse of the lid.
The four reliefs, presented to each of the four sides of the casket can be identified by the engraved silver-gilt cartouches inset directly above the sides:
Zum Andenken an den 27 Sept(ember) 1841 - in remembrance of the 27th of September 1841 - This is the date of the 60th birthday of King Wilhelm I of Württemberg (1781-1864). The casket must have been a birthday gift to the King who also celebrated his 25th jubilee as King of Württemberg in that same year.
The relief shows the King seated on an elaborate throne wearing a laurel wreath on his head in the middle; to his left there are uniformed military dignitaries, to his right there are civilians, clerics, and representatives of all the guilds and professions. Two figures were identified by Gustaf Wais: The President of the "Standesherren" (the most important noble families) Prince von Hohenlohe-Langenburg; and von Wächter - the president of the parliament (Zweite Kammer) and the university.
The other three reliefs depict battles against napoleon in which the IVth army corps, composed of Württemberg and Austrian troops, took part. The IVth Army corps was commanded by the then crownprince Wilhelm in the rank of Fieldmarshall.
The battle of Brienne.
After what seemed an easy victory by the French against the allies on the 29th of January, the combined forces of Blucher and crownprince Wilhelm turned it into a rout for the Allies. 53 French cannon were captured. One of these captured cannon is depicted on the relief, loaded on a wagon. Wais identifies the crownprince as the fourth figure from the right , in front of him on the rearing horse is commander von Brand.
The storming and capture of Sens.
Unaided by other allies Crownprince Wilhelm successfully commanded his Württembergers in the capture of Sens. The relief shows a scene after the capture of the town with the townwalls in the background and the Württemberg troops in the foreground with the Crownprince as third person next to the ladder. We can further identify Major general Prince von Hohenlohe-Kirchberg, in front of the crownprince, fifth from the left of the ladder; in between them commander, count von Latour; to the left of Prince Hohenlohe commander Imhof, and to his left holding up his helmet luitenant-commander von Bangold; Further to the left with pointed indexfinger General von Stockmayer; in front of him the French commander of sappers Allemand, with head physician Fricker shown tending to his wound.
The battle of Fère la Champenoise.
This was a decisive battle which lead to the capitulation of the Fench forces. The French lost 5000 troops against 2000 on the allied side. The relief shows the battlefield with wounded and fallen men. Amongst the horsemen on the left can be identified: Prince Adam von Württemberg; Commander von Bismarck, Captain von Hauff and others; in the background behind the seated wounded soldier the Crownprince; in the foreground to the right and mounted we can see Commander von Wimpfen directing the Austrian hussar regiment "Herzog Ferdinand" to the frontlines. The carved group of putti which forms the finial of the casket are allegorical of the (Württemberg) arts and sciences and agriculture and trade, paying hommage to their sovereign represented by the standing putto-who would have held a sceptre.
THE DESIGN ORIGINS AND THE ARTIST.
Although the casket is not signed, there is a direct link to the artists involved through the Jubilee column in Stuttgart which has exactly the same reliefs, albeit in a much larger scale and cast in bronze, applied to the four sides of its square base.
The jubilee column was to be erected as a tribute to the 25th jubilee of King Wilhelm I as soveriegn of Württemberg. In the jubilee year the column was not ready yet, and a wooden column was erected in its place. The column was comissioned not by the King but by the so called "Standeskammern Württembergs" this body contained representatives from the nobility and parliament. A competition for the design of a jubilee column was announced, and from ten competitors the design of Johann Michael von Knapp (1793-1861) was chosen. Knapp was a draughtsman and architect who studied under Johann Heinrich von Dannecker (1785-1841), from 1818 to 1840 he travelled to Milan and Rome to further his studies. In 1841 he returned to Stuttgart where he gained the position of court builder "Hofbaumeister". The design drawings of the reliefs were made by Joseph Joachim von Schni(t)zer (1792-1870), an artist specialised in depicting battlescenes, he was active in Stuttgart from 1816 where he gained the position of painter to the Court "Hofmaler". The execution of the reliefs and the four allegorical figures flanking the column on the top of its base were entrusted to Theodor Wagner (1800-1880), Wagner was also a student of Dannecker whom he succeeded as Proffesor of Sculpture in the Artschool of Stuttgart, a position he held until 1876. Although Wagner was held to the designs of Schnizer, it is not unlikely that he was also creatively involved in the design, as he had to "translate" the design into three dimensions. Although Wagner preferably worked in stone he also sculpted wood models for the moulds of the bronze reliefs and figures for the jubilee column. It is not unlikely therefore that he also mastered the skill of ivory carving. Due to technical difficulties it was not until 1844 that the column was finished, and only in 1863 the bronze figural finial was put into place. However the present casket was presented to the King on his Birthday - 27 September 1841. Were then the reliefs designed for the casket or for the monument? It could be speculated that the casket was made as a tribute to King Wilhelm I under direction of the two court artists Theodor Wagner and Joseph Joachim von Schnizler as a foretaste of the monument.
M. Bach Stuttgarter Kunst 1794-1860 nach gleichzeitigen Berichten, Briefen un Erinnerungen, Stuttgart 1900.
M. Dewald Das Bedürfnis nach Erinnerung - Die Stuttgarter Jubiläumssäle In: Schwäbische Heimat 2006/4.
W. Lagler Der Festzug der Württemberger von 1841 http://w210.ub.uni-tuebingen.de/dbt/volltexte/2001/215html/index.htm.
G. Reinhold Johann Michael Knapp (1791-1861) Eine Studie über Leben Werk und Nachlass des Stuttgarter Hofbaumeisters, Backnang 1994.
G. Wais Stuttgarts Kunst und Kulturdenkmale, Stuttgart 1954.
We thank Christine Cornet for her help in preparing this note.