Decorated with the most exquisite engraved scenes and lavish foliate scrolls, this magnificent gilt-copper writing box or ‘Prunkkassette’ was made around 1740-44 for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, a close ally and supporter of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor and early patron of Leopold Mozart. Bearing the Prince-Archbishop’s arms and a lengthy dedication to him as well as, intriguingly, the signature of its maker Georg Martin Gizl, the casket was acquired about a century later by the wealthy Lincolnshire landowner Gregory de Ligne Gregory for Harlaxton Manor, to form part of what was rightly considered one of England's most spectacular collections of European painting, sculpture, furniture and objects of virtue. Bequeathed by de Ligne Gregory to Sir Glynne Earle Welby-Gregory, it descended in the family and is now offered for the first time in over a century and a half.
LEOPOLD ANTON FREIHERR VON FIRMIAN
Leopold Anton Eleutherius von Firmian (1679–1744) was the son of the Imperial envoy Franz Wilhelm Freiherr von Firmian and Countess Maria Viktoria von Thun. He was the Catholic Bishop of Lavant from 1718 to 1724, Bishop of Seckau from 1724 to 1727, and Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg from 1727 until his death in 1744. Von Firmian resided at the Salzburg Residence and the Prince-Archbishop's summer palace at Klessheim; he also had Schloss Leopoldskron erected as his private residence. He was an early patron of Leopold Mozart, who in 1737 had moved to Salzburg - at the time the capital of the Prince-Archbishopric of Salzburg, an independent state within the Holy Roman Empire - and who joined the Prince-Archbishop's court orchestra in 1740, first as violinist and violin teacher, later climbing to the position of deputy 'Kapellmeister'. Von Firmian's nephew, count Karl Firmian, was later one of the patrons for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Italian opera: Mitridate, Re di Ponto.
GEORG MARTIN GIZL
Just beneath the dedication to the patron, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, the front panel is engraved with the proud signature of Georg Martin Gizl, maker of this magnificent casket. Gizl is recorded as having worked for the court in Salzburg from the 1740s until 1787 as a sculptor, gunsmith and maker of scientific instruments, and a group of signed objects by him helps build a picture of his oeuvre. While this splendid casket is probably one of his most important commissions for the Prince-Archbishop, an exquisite gilt-copper and carved Alpine Ibex horn ewer and basin, dated 1758, bears his signature, and was was recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, New York (Accession Nr: 2013.442.1, .2). A miniature porcelain portrait plaque depicting Marie-Antoinette of Habsburg-Lorraine framed in an elaborate pierced gilt-copper surround signed and dated 'Georg. Martin Gizl. Mechanicus in Salzburg 1754' was offered in a Paris auction in 2009, while the British Museum holds an intriguing portable theodolite signed by Gizl and dated 1769. The gilt-copper profile medallions of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg, Andreas Graf von Dietrichstein and Siegismund Graf von Schrattenbach, dated 1753 and 1754 respectively and both signed by Gizl, are in the Museum of the Abbey of St. Peter in Salzburg, while the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (Museum Nr: 274-1866), holds Gizl's portrait medallion of Leopold von Firmian, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, for whom he made this extravagant writing casket.
GREGORY DE LIGNE GREGORY AND HARLAXTON MANOR
This striking casket formed part of what was rightly considered one of England's most spectacular collections of European painting, sculpture, furniture and objects of virtue. Accumulated throughout the first half of the 19th century by Gregory de Ligne Gregory (d. 1854), a cosmopolitan and wealthy Lincolnshire landowner, the extensive collection was housed in the purpose-built 'Jacobethan' mansion, Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire. An indication of the contents and quality of Gregory’s collection is mentioned in Burke's 1853 edition of A Visitation of The Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain, where he states: "Mr. Gregory has been unwearied in collecting the most beautiful and rare objects in virtu and taste in France and Italy; and about twenty-three years ago he commenced the palace of Harlaxton, as a fitting receptacle for his varied acquisitions the main object of his life has been to create a splendid monument to his taste which should mark to posterity at once its refinement and its magnificence".
Following Gregory's death in 1854 his collection and estates were cause of some legal disputes and, when finally settled, part of the art collection – though not this casket – was sold in a spectacular sale at Christie's on 17 June 1878. The title of the sale gives further indication of the breadth of the collection:
'CONSISTING OF Pictures, Sculpture, Tapestry, Silver-plate, Old French Decorative Furniture of the time of Louis XIII, XIV, XV and XVI, Rare Marbles, Fine Or-Molu Work, Rock-Crystal Chandelier, and other Decorative Objects, being a portion of the Collection formed by the late GREGORY GREGORY, ESQ., For the Adornment of his Seat, Harlaxton Manor House, Lincolnshire...'.