On Wednesday 2 November, to coincide with Halloween, Bonhams
will hold its first sale dedicated to the Wunderkammer, also known as the Kunstkammer or cabinet of curiosities, a collection of fine objects created from the rarest and most exquisite materials and designed to induce excitement and wonder in the viewer.
Comprising works of art ranging from ivory figures and reliefs, early and rare bronzes, fine enamels, chalices and caskets, the Wunderkammer brought together objects produced from the most expensive and highly prized materials of the day, including ivory, tortoiseshell, rhino horn, enamel and gilt bronze.
This unique, one-off sale features one hundred and thirty ivory carvings, including a very spooky South German skull (estimate £10,000 15,000); an eerie 17th century anatomical model of an eye (estimate £4,000 6,000); and a gruesome relief depicting the martyrdom of Saint Erasmus (estimate £10,000 15,000). The top lot is a rare collection of forty four mid 18th century ivory intaglios of Roman Emperors, which has attracted a pre-sale estimate of £20,000 30,000.
The first Wunderkammers of note appeared in the early 16th century in Germany, and were most popular in the 17th and 18th centuries in Northern Europe. This sale will include an exceptional private collection of European ivories, a collection of European ivories from the Channel Islands and a private Dutch collection of European bronze reliefs and statuettes.
In addition, it will offer The Messel Collection of works of art from Nymans. The Messels were a well-established German banking family, who lived at Nymans in West Sussex, a house today owned by the National Trust. Fervent collectors, the Messels travelled each year to Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and France, bringing back furniture, textiles, early continental glass, ceramics and jewellery. They also accumulated fans, which can today be found in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. A highlight from this collection is a 16th century North Italian ebony and ivory gaming board, which has been estimated at £2,000 3,000.