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Sotheby's London to Offer a Lost Royal Masterpiece: A Renaissance Chalcedony Cover
A Royal Gilt-Bronze-Mounted Sèvres Fond Violet Porcelain Vase Ovoïde, the bronzes attributed to Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis, Louis XVI, c.1768. Estimate: £50,000 - £80,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby's announces Treasures: Princely Taste, the sale of an outstanding selection of rare and important decorative art with links to some of the greatest collectors in European history, including Louis XIV, Cardinal Mazarin, King Alfonso XII, Prince Davidoff, the Duc D’Orléans, Giovanni Strozzi and the Duke of Buccleugh. The auction, on Wednesday 6th July 2011 at 6pm, is expected to fetch a total in excess of £9 million. It will comprise 33 lots, encompassing furniture, works of art, clocks, silver and objects of vertu, each displaying the remarkable qualities of princely taste. The sale’s centrepiece is a unique and recently rediscovered masterpiece - an exquisitely carved hardstone cover, the lost partner of a matching cup in the collection of the Louvre (estimated at £800,000 - £1,200,000*).

Sotheby’s Deputy Chairman, Europe, Mario Tavella, said: “Following the outstanding success of last year’s inaugural Treasures sale, Sotheby’s embarked on an extraordinary treasure hunt spanning the great houses of Europe, in search of objects representing the very pinnacle of the decorative arts. Many of these spectacular, rare and important works come to the market for the first time and similar examples can be found in some of the world’s greatest museums.”

A highlight of the sale is a lost royal masterpiece, a magnificent chalcedony cover, dating from the late 16th Century. The cover represents the most important work attributed to Giovanni Ambrogio Miseroni - the greatest of all Renaissance hardstone engravers - to ever appear at auction. Miseroni was acclaimed for his exquisite figurative carving and skill in exploiting the natural colouration of his materials. So spectacular is the cover, which features Venus and Cupid cradled together within a scallop shell and framed by a silver gilt mount in the form of Jupiter as a swan, it is believed to have been owned by Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor and Queen Christina of Sweden, before being documented in the legendary collection of Cardinal Mazarin. Subsequently acquired by Louis XIV, the cover’s mounts bear the hallmarks of his royal inventory. In 1796, following the Revolution, the Directoire relinquished a quarter of the collection to settle its debts. The covered cup was the second most expensive item to be sold, demonstrating its great importance and value. The reappearance of the marvellous cover, from a private Swiss collection, presents a very special opportunity to acquire a work of royal magnificence with a superb provenance.

A spectacular automaton singing bird vase clock, possibly made for the Empress Josephine c.1805, is estimated to bring £700,000 to £1,000,000. Standing at an impressive height of 82cm, “The Empress Clock” is an extraordinary marriage of technological and artistic achievement. When the clock strikes, an automaton bird appears, flaps its wings and opens its beak - its breast feathers trembling - as one of three tunes is played on a nine pipe organ. Designed by Jean Francois DeBelle, court clockmaker to Louis XVI, a further ingeniously concealed movement operates both upper and lower automata sections of the clock. The case can be attributed to Claude Galle who supplied furnishing bronzes to royal households throughout Europe. In 1805, Napoleon ordered a clock and automaton of this description from DeBelle as a gift for the Empress. One year later the clock was delivered and became a firm favourite, remaining with Josephine at Malmaison following her divorce from the Emperor.

A stunningly rich and rare purple ground distinguishes a royal, gilt-bronze-mounted Sèvres porcelain vase, c.1768, from the bedroom of King Alfonso XII of Spain. Estimated at £50,000-£80,000, the vessel is adorned with flamboyant ram’s head and wreath ornaments of exemplary quality, attributed to sculptor and orfevre du rois Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis. The vase’s fond violet colour was highly experimental and troublesome to produce, and therefore only a handful of such vessels are known to have been created. When the vase came to be offered for sale, a letter was discovered hidden inside. Written in Spanish it explains that it was: ‘taken from the boudoir of his majesty the King Alfonso XII by his valet, Ceferino, when the King died. Having kept it for many years as a souvenir I was honoured to give it to the Duke of Tamames, a dear friend of the late king never mourned enough for.’ The letter, dated 19th March 1909 is signed by Antonio J Esplila, son in law of Ceferino.

The sale also features an impressive pair of large allegorical bronze groups depicting The Vintage and The Art of War by the Venetian Francesco Bertos, estimated at £500,000 - £800,000. The imposing bronzes, each over a metre in height and a tour de force of casting, consist of 11 figures and animals and exemplify Bertos’s highly individualistic style. Dating from the first half of the 18th Century, the models are the largest and most complex of his allegorical compositions, known as ‘The Bronze Triumphs’ and were displayed in Alphonse de Rothschild’s Thereisanumgasse palace in Vienna. Only two other versions of the Rothschild groups are known to exist – one in the Palazzo Reale in Turin and the other in the Prado in Madrid.

A pair of solid Blue-John vases of exceptional quality from the collection of the leading 18th Century tastemaker Thomas Hope, estimated at £400,000 - £600,000, will also feature in the sale. Exemplifying Hope’s desire to enrich contemporary design with a classical repertory, the vases were illustrated in his influential Household Furniture of 1807 and it is believed they may also have been displayed in his famous home in Duchess Street. The dramatic ormolu mounts are attributed to celebrated bronzier Alexis Decaix.

A magnificent pair of Italian carved giltwood settees created for one of the most sumptuous Rococo interiors in Italy - the Gilded Gallery of Palazzo Carrega Cataldi - is estimated at £300,000 - £500,000. The settees, profusely adorned with the room’s aquatic theme, including mermaids, scallop shells and dolphins, were purchased by the American architect Stanford White, who bought the entire contents of the Palazzo during a trip to Europe in the late 19th Century. They were subsequently sold to William Collins Whitney, who transformed his 5th Avenue mansion into a palace between 1896-1902, and then passed by descent to his son the oil tycoon Harry Payne Whitney and his wife Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. The settees also graced the Count Volpi de Misurata’s Palazzo in Rome.

A pair of magnificent late Baroque marquetry tables, with exuberant inlay and engravings estimated at £600,000 - £1,000,000) are amongst the most outstanding of a small group of related pieces executed by Lucio and Antonio De Lucci in Venice in the late 17th century. The tables’ tops are characterised by Lucci’s boldly scrolled ribbons, exuberant patterns and highly ambitious landscape and architectural views. They also bear a later ivory coat of arms for the 5th Duke of Buccleugh, one of the early 19th Century’s wealthiest landowners.

Offered at auction for the first time is a rare and impressive, Roman gilt-bronze-pietre-dure-and marble-mounted ebony and ebonised cabinet, estimated at £250,000 - £500,000. In terms of its grandeur, the cabinet can be included in a small group of the most important 17th Century cabinets. Roman pietre-dure inlaid works are prized for their abstract geometric compositions in transparent stones, and this sumptuous cabinet is distinguished by its rich and glowing inlays of lapis lazuli, agates and jaspers. It comes to Sotheby’s from the collection of Princess Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa. The Hamilton Palace Cabinet and a cabinet from the Demidoff collection are part of a small group of comparable quality.

Coming to the market for the first time from a private collection, Sotheby’s to offer the only surviving pair of Jaquet-Droz & Leschot singing bird snuff boxes still together. The early history of these enchanting objects, estimated at £250,000 - £450,000, is well documented, thanks to their rare violet colour. Made in 1800-1801, the boxes’ mirror-image portrait lids open to reveal mechanical birds adorned with real, brightly coloured feathers. Wound by a golden key, they were priced at as much as £1,800 apiece when they were ordered by the London retail jewellers David Duval & Co in 1801 for the Chinese market.

A magnificent pair of gilt-bronze mounted Chinese crackle glaze celadon pot pourri vases are expected to reach £800,000 to £1,200,000. The vases, were made between 1745 and 1749. They featured in the private collections of master couturier Nicolay and most recently, that of Dimitri Mavrommatis.

Appearing at auction for the first time, Sotheby’s to offer a rediscovered pair of majestic gilt-bronze-mounted Urals red jasper ewers by François Rémond (estimate £400,000 - £600,000), c.1780. Rémond was one of the most celebrated bronziers during the reign of Louis XVI, working for a distinguished clientele that included Queen Marie-Antoinette. A pair of identically mounted vases is illustrated in the Bedroom in the Peterhof Palace in Russia. Another identical vase depicted in a portrait of Empress Elisabeth Alexeïvna, suggests they may have been part of the same garniture.

Believed to have been made, possibly as a diplomatic gift, for Count (“Prince”) Michele Pignatelli, Neapolitan ambassador to France, a pair of French silver wine coolers with matching soup tureen, cover and stand are estimated to reach £500,000 - £800,000.

Made in Paris between 1783-1785 by Jacques-Charles Mongenot, they bear the extremely rare ‘Gratis’ discharge mark, whose use could only be authorised by the French King. The tureen is one of a set of four. The other examples are held in the Gulbenkian museum, Lisbon, the Toledo Museum of Art and the Winterthur Museum in Delaware.

Appearing for the first time at auction since 1853, the sale also features two magnificent surtouts de table commissioned for the Duc D’Orléans’ Dining Room in the Pavillon de Marsan, Tuileries, in 1839. Estimated to reach £120,000-£150,000, these two-tone gilt and silvered bronze hardstone centrepieces are inlaid with semi-precious jewels. They were designed by Aimé Chenevard and a number of distinguished artists and bronziers, collaborated on their manufacture.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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