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Masterpieces of furniture and decorative arts to be offered at Sotheby's London
From a prestigious aristocratic English stately home - A magnificent late-Renaissance antique marble inlaid table top, Roman last quarter 16th century. Est. £800,000-1,200,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- On 3rd July 2013, Sotheby’s fourth successive sale of Treasures, Princely Taste in London, will present 49 furniture and decorative arts masterpieces, many of which have been commissioned by – or made for – great European rulers and dynasties such as the Medici family, Catherine the Great and Napoleon. Ranging in date from the 16th to the 20th centuries, these treasures emanate from the most prestigious aristocratic collections in Europe – from Italy to France, England to Russia. Combining exceptional provenance with extraordinary craftsmanship and the finest materials of their time, they constitute the pinnacle of their collecting category, while also shedding light on the life, passions and tastes of their eminent owners.

Among highlights, most of which come to the market for the first time, are a magnificent late-Renaissance table top in-laid with rare antique marbles excavated from Roman Imperial ruins (est. £800,000 - 1,200,000); a pair of ivory vases with gilt-bronze mounts, Louis XVI an avid collector (est. £600,000 - 1,000,000); an iconic medal cabinet most probably made for Napoleon (est. £300,000 - 500,000) and a superb rock crystal vessel from the first half of the 16th century with portraits of Pope Clement VII and his believed to be illegitimate son, Alessandro de’ Medici, Duke of Florence (est. £150,000 - 300,000).

Commenting on the forthcoming sale, Mario Tavella, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Europe, Chairman, Furniture and Decorative Arts said: “Each of the magnificent pieces in this sale meets the definition of a “treasure”. In addition to their desirability relating to the sumptuous materials of which they are composed and the craftsmanship of the greatest artists of their time, these treasures - formerly the preserve of kings, princes and popes – each carry with them a fascinating story. The very few similar examples known today are preserved in the world’s most important museums. Many of the lots presented in July have been in the same collections for centuries and the sale represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire them.”

A Magnificent Renaissance Antique Marble Table Top, last quarter of the 16th century
The magnificent late-Renaissance table top leading the sale was previously unknown and studied here for the first time. Coming from one of England's most prestigious stately homes, the truly outstanding work of art was brought to England from Florence by the Rev. Mr Sanford in 1840 with a reputed Medici provenance. The presence of four acorns in its design seems to indicate that the Della Rovere family who ruled the Dukedom of Urbino at the time, was the patron who commissioned the table. Estimated at £800,000 - 1,200,000, this table top is certainly one of the largest and most beautiful geometrically designed Roman antique marble inlaid commessi ever conceived. Table tops of this magnitude were commissioned and collected by the Italian princely dynasties of the 16th century (Gonzaga, Farnese, Medici etc.), and almost every European Renaissance court possessed one or more examples of commessi table tops produced either in Rome or Florence. The exceptional quality of the present work echoes in many aspects the beauty of the celebrated Farnese table top, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the great Roman antique marble inlaid table top, formerly in the collection of Cardinal Richelieu and today in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.

An Extremely Rare Pair of Gilt-Bronze-Mounted Ivory Vases, Louis XVI, circa 1785
The sale will also be distinguished with a pair of Louis XVI ivory vases with gilt-bronze mounts made circa 1785, probably for the French royal family and possibly with the collaboration of a family member. The craft of ivory-turning was one of the favourite pastimes of the French Royal family in the second half of the 18th century. Under the directions of François Voisin – to whom this pair of vases is attributed - Louis XVI commissioned a number of extraordinary objects in turned ivory. Reflecting the supreme perfection attained by the decorative arts in the final years of the Ancien Régime, three of the seven pairs of Louis XVI Gilt-Bronze-Mounted Ivory Vases known today are in important public collections, including the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg and the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The other four remain in private hands, and have all passed through the Rothschild Collections, including the present two vases which adorned the Rothschild family’s Parisian mansion, Hôtel Lambert for over 150 years (est. £600,000 - 1,000,000).

An Iconic Médaillier probably commissioned by Napoleon on Baron Dominique Vivant Denon’s instructions, circa 1810
Testament to Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s passion for medals and Egypt, this magnificent and extremely rare medal cabinet represents the zenith of the goût d’Egypte style in France in the early years of the 19th century. It was probably commissioned directly by Napoleon or via Dominique Vivant Denon who accompanied General Bonaparte on his Egyptian campaign in 1798-99 and thereafter became one of the originators of the goût d’Egypte style. Known as the “Monson cabinet”, after Frederick John Monson, 5th Lord Monson who acquired it around 1830, this silver-mounted and inlaid amboyna and mahogany médaillier by the ébéniste Jacob-Desmalter and goldsmith Martin Guillaume Biennais is exceptional in terms of both its conception and execution. Estimated at £300,000 - 500,000, it is the only other outstanding example of a medal cabinet in the goût d’Egypte style, apart from the example today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which has resurfaced after nearly two hundred years.

A Superb Rock Crystal Vessel with Portraits of Pope Clement VII and Alessandro De' Medici, Duke of Florence, circa 1530-1550
A lost treasure of the Italian Renaissance, this superb rock crystal vessel compares with some of the finest hardstone carvings of the first half of the 16th century. The presence of the portraits of Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici, Pope Clement VII (1478-1534) and Alessandro De' Medici, Duke of Florence (1511-1537) together with their coat of arms indicates that it was an important commission, celebrating the close relationship between two powerful members of the Medici dynasty. It is indeed believed that Pope Clement VII - who held the papacy in the beginnings of Reformation – was the real father of Alessandro De' Medici, officially known as the illegitimate son of Lorenzo II de’ Medici (est. £150,000-355,000).

Other highlights in the sale include a magnificent George III pier table, circa 1772 almost certainly commissioned by Sir Edwin Lascelles for Harewood House, Yorkshire from Thomas Chippendale (est. £300,000 - 500,000) and a pair of Russian glass and hardstone panels, circa 1765-1770, attributed to the Lomonosov’s glass workshops in Ust-Ruditsa which produced coloured glass and mosaic decorations for Catherine the Great’s palaces (est. £250,000 - 500,000).

The sale will also celebrate the art of clock- and watchmaking with pieces representing the quintessence of the discipline from the early 16th to the 20th century. An extraordinary jewelled gold and enamel automaton silkworm, also known as the 'Ethiopian Caterpillar', made in Geneva circa 1810, very probably for the Imperial Court of China. Of the six or seven recorded surviving caterpillars, the present example with its naturalistic colouring and spotting is the closest to a live silkworm (est. £150,000 - 200,000).

Testament to the extraordinary connoisseurship of George Daniels (1926-2011) - considered by many to be the greatest watchmaker since Abraham Louis Breguet, the sale will present an 18 carat yellow gold pocket chronometer made by Daniels in 1986. Dr Daniels produced only 25 unique mechanical watches in his life time, making almost every component by hand. Reflecting these watches’ superb craftsmanship and complications, this watch was the first to include Daniels’ revolutionary invention of the Co-Axial escapement – the main advance in escapement technology since Thomas Mudge’s lever escapement of 1754 (est. £300,000 - 400,000).

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