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The glass that shattered an empire for sale at Bonhams
The wheel-engraved panel is estimated to sell for between £50,000 to £70,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A work by Caspar Lehmann, the greatest glass engraver under Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II is to be auctioned at Bonhams, New Bond Street as part of the Muhleib Collection of European Glass sale on May 2nd. The wheel-engraved panel is estimated to sell for between £50,000 to £70,000.

It is believed that Rudolf’s devotion to the arts led to poor political judgement which ultimately resulted in the Thirty Years’ War. In 1606, the Archdukes of Vienna declared of their ruler, “his majesty is only interested in wizards and alchemists and the like, sparing no expense to find new treasures and secrets’’. Rudolf II was considered by contemporaries as “the greatest patron of the arts in the world”, promoting some of the most distinguished artists such as Hans Von Aachen and Giambologna while being an early pioneer of Northern Mannerist art. Scientists such as Johannes Kepler and Charles de l'Ecluse were also attendants of his court, and he furthermore had an unrivalled collection of artworks, boasting the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, Corregio, Albert Durer and Breugel the Elder.

Caspar Lehmann was Rudolf II’s most revered craftsman. Lehman was possibly the first to use the spinning copper-wheel to engrave glass where previously the method of pictorial decoration on glass was achieved with a diamond-point. This influenced generations of engravers who now commonly use spinning sharp edged wheels to carve into the surface of the glass creating more 3D effects not previously achieved. In the early 1600’s, the King appointed Lehmann as Imperial Gem and Glass Engraver, praising him for “rediscovering the art and practice of gem cutting”. He allowed the artist “full liberty to carry on his art and work free and without let; and that no one, whoever he shall be, practise, without his consent, practice or deal in such art or work”.

The engraved panel being auctioned at Bonhams was completed in 1608, and was a product of this particularly fruitful period during Lehman’s artistic career, as he worked at the height of his creative powers.

The offered lot is thought to be part of a group of five plaques illustrating Greek myths which were also produced during this period, and are reputed to be kept at the Vittums Palais of Frederick II of Denmark in Husum. The present engraved plaque was until recently on long-term loan at the British Museum.

The work depicts the Greek myth of Europa and the bull, capturing the moment in which the bull carries Europa off across the waves having abducted her as she was gathering flowers. The bull was in fact Zeus, who had fallen in love with Europa and wanted to turn her into his wife. When married to Zeus, Europa become the first Queen of Crete and gave birth to the half-bull half-man Minotaur of the famous Greek myth Theseus and the Minotaur. The name for the continent of Europe was subsequently taken from the Goddess.

Simon Cottle, Director of the Glass Department at Bonhams, comments: “We are delighted to be offering this outstanding collection of some of the most remarkable glass to be produced during the Enlightenment. In particular, this engraving by Lehmann is a masterpiece. The sale of the collection offers serious glass enthusiasts a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build their own collections.’’

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