17th Century Augsburg Cabinet
Lot 200
The Ballyfin Cabinet. A rare and important Augsburg silver mounted, ebony Table Cabinet or Kabinettschrank inset with Florentine pietra dura plaques
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Lot Details
The Ballyfin Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet 17th Century Augsburg Cabinet
The Ballyfin Cabinet. A rare and important Augsburg silver mounted, ebony Table Cabinet or Kabinettschrank inset with Florentine pietra dura plaques
circa 1660, by Elias Boscher
of broken outline and graduated architectural design, the pietra dura panels depicting birds and flowers attributed to the Florentine Grand Ducal Workshops or ‘Opificio delle pietre dure’,
the stepped superstructure fitted with three frieze drawers above a central cupboard door, architectural pediment and inset with a panel depicting a chaffinch on a fruiting bough, flanked by columns of Smaragdite Gabbro with Corinthian capitals flanked by two deep drawers, inset with panels depicting parrots within fruiting boughs, with three further fitted drawers below, the large central cupboard door inset with a panel of a lapis lazuli flower filled urn issuing stems including a carnation, anemone, daffodil and lilies and enclosing an architectural interior, flanked by further Smaragdite Gabbro columns and three drawers to each side inset with further symmetrical floral panels including tulips, roses, carnations, lilies and bluebells, on shaped bracket feet, each side inset with large central panels of parrots on fruiting boughs, with four further floral panels above and below, the reverse veneered in kingwood and walnut in geometric stellar designs

The cabinet containing a complex series of secret drawers to the interior, the central cabochon mount stamped with the Augsburg town mark and the silversmiths mark of Johann Spitzmacher (active 1655-1678) The cabinet is signed in pencil on the underside ‘Elias Boscher’ and ‘gemacht’.

, 84cm wide, 40cm deep, 85cm high.

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Almost certainly purchased by Sir Charles Henry Coote, 9th Baronet (1792-1864) for Ballyfin House, Co. Laois, before 1841;
    Sir Charles Henry Coote, 10th Baronet (1815 - 1895);
    The Rev. Sir Algernon Coote, 11th Baronet (1817-1899);
    Sir Algernon Charles Plumptre Coote, 12th Baronet (1847 - 1920); last member of the family to live at Ballyfin;
    Thence by family descent.

    Inventories:

    An Inventory of Ballyfin House taken in January 1841 by Williams and Gibton, lists the cabinet in the library:

    One Ebony Cabinet, the Panels & doors of drawers done in Mosaic Work with Marble Corinthian & Ionic pillars, with , brass caps & leaves the whole richly ornamented in Ormolu.

    Another Inventory taken in 1864 by Arthur Jones & Son of St Stephens Green, Dublin lists:

    Grand Florentino Gem cabinet. Ionic Columns. Bronze Shafts and ormolu Hinges. Doors and handles

    The ‘Ballyfin’ Cabinet by Elias Boscher

    The ‘Ballyfin’ Cabinet by Boscher remains a rarity in that it is one of the few examples that survive signed by a craftsman. The signature is found to the underside of the cabinet and reads ‘Elias Boscher’ and a little further to the right the word ‘gemacht’. Whereas one may assume that masters would have regularly signed some of their most valuable pieces, these examples are rarely found. Signatures are often found during restoration work or when damage occurs. These signatures are often found in inaccessible places such as under veneers, which was the case with the cabinet by Melchior Baumgartner in the Bavarian National Museum. The location of the signature to the underside of the ‘Ballyfin’ cabinet is relatively easy to see but would be rarely have been viewed from below.

    The ‘Ballyfin’ cabinet is architecturally divided into three sections, in respect of height and width. The central part, projects to all three sections of base, body and superstructure. It is accentuated by a larger drawer to the base, by doors in the central section and to the superstructure, and furthermore in the superstructure by a raised compartment. The base, body and superstructure and even the upper compartment are stepped toward the back, so that each successive ‘tier’ is situated on a wider and deeper structure. The vertical segmentation of the cabinet and of the superstructure is defined in the green Smaragdite Gabbro columns, which are applied with gilt bases and capitals. The pilasters on the chest have Ionic capitals and, in line with the classical orders of architecture, those of the superstructure are Corinthian. The individual sections which are created by the drawer fronts and doors are highlighted with pietra dura panels.
    This type of cabinet, with the predominant use of ebony and pietra dura panels, originated in Florence and this is where the stonework would have been imported from. These panels where produced and successfully exported from the ‘Opificio delle Pietre Dure’. The Opificio was founded in 1588 by the Grand Duke Ferdinand I. de’ Medici in Florence and was later to commence production of such panels for export. It is most likely that the stone pillars used in this cabinet were also produced in Florence. These types of cabinet, using Florentine pietra-dura panels were relatively well known in Augsburg due to its close proximity and good trade connections to Ital. Philipp Hainhofer, for example studied in Italy during his youth when made some powerful connections with prosperous families.

    The interior panels are adorned with parquetry, the inlaid compartment behind the central door and that behind the upper door are removable. When removed, the insides as well as the outsides of these compartments are inlaid. A great variety of woods have been used for this purpose: expensive exotic woods such as rosewood, ebony and mahogany, but also local woods such as ash, walnut and maple. Apart from woods we also find pewter stringing that follows the patterns’ contours. Although the fashion for such fitments had long passed, the interior can be seen as reminiscent of the contents of the Kunstkammer - mirroring the collections of Naturalia on display within. The removable compartment of the central section contains two small drawers; the fronts are each decorated with panels of Jasper framed by cartouches of carved ebony. The individual sections created by the architectural segmentation are framed by smooth outlines and ripple mouldings. The compartments contain a large number of secret drawers, which are mostly situated at the back of the compartments or their respective chambers and are lined with ‘Turkish’ paper. The main drawers are lined with brown and white patterned silks, which are shot with gold thread. ‘Haberdashers’ would have undertaken this work. The tops of the drawers are veneered in rosewood to the front. The drawers also have further secret drawers, which can be drawn out from their back once a small catch has been released.

    Aside from the precious materials such as pietra dura and ebony we also find the decorative silver gilt mounts. Silver ornamentation on cabinets had a long tradition in Augsburg. The traditional trade in silver had been decimated in the course of the Thirty Years War so that by the 1660s, when this cabinet was made, silver ingots were difficult to come by. In accordance with the sumptuous decoration of the cabinet, these mounts were nonetheless fashioned out of this expensive material. The designs of the mounts draw predominantly on the fashion of the early elaborate Acanthus style of Italian ornament prints. Exponents of this style include Agostino Mitelli (16/3/1609 – 2/8/1660) and Domenico Bonaveri (b. circa 1640 Bologna), both of whom flourished in the 1630s and 40s.

    The ‘Ballyfin’ cabinet dates from circa 1660-70, during which time cabinets were already being made without folding doors and were no longer decorated elaborately in the round. However, the back is not plain but decorated in a complex geometric pattern of exotic woods, similar to the decoration of the internal compartments. We therefore can assume that this example was not designed exclusively to be viewed standing against a wall. It appears that we are being presented with a typologically transitional piece – neither decorated fully in the round, nor exclusively to be set against a wall. Unfortunately this makes its original setting – whether Kunstkammer or domestic display, undeterminable.

    Elias Boscher

    Elias Boscher remains an elusive character. We know that he married Regina Fend in 1629 ‘both of them local and single’ . The Cabinetmakers’ guild required an apprenticeship of at least three years and a subsequent period as a journeyman of ten years to qualify as a master craftsman. In addition it would only grant permission for marriage after the examination for master had been completed. We can therefore assume his date of birth as circa 1600 and his status as a master of the guild from 1629.

    Further information can be gleaned from tax records, which were not unfortunately registered for each year, but only every seven years. According to these records he paid tax at the latest from 1639 until circa 1674. Between 1667 and 1674 his wife Regina had taken over the workshop and therefore Elias’ death must have occurred at some time between these years.

    He appears regularly in the guild records. In 1664 he is a signatory witness in a guild dispute with the Instrument-makers , on the 22nd June 1649 as signatory on a petition to the city council to prevent the carpenters’ guilds’ involvement in cabinetmakers’ work. Furthermore on the 5th December 1662 as signatory on a petition from the masters to the city council to not allow a premature examination for a journeyman due to the ‘overrun’ profession of the guild and to uphold guild regulations. During the period the masters of the guild were monetarily challenged by their considerable numbers, these cases were unlikely to be decided in favour of the journeyman.

    Finally, in 1664/65 he served on several occasions as sworn master and witness in the case of the cabinetmaker Ulrich Baumgartner v. the merchant Jacob Haim. The case pertained to a dispute regarding the costs of a complex furnishing project.
    In this context Boscher was newly sworn in on the 9th September 1664 as examining master and witness by the mayor Antoni Langenmantel. This had been necessitated, as one of the newly sworn in masters, namely Matheus Binder, who was to take the place of Melchior Baumgartner turned out to be the brother of the defendant. (See ill. 12, which is the document from the Cabinetmakers Guild Records from the City Archives of Augsburg, Fasc 184 7 (1664-1670) Nr 285/83).

    Related Cabinets

    The most important comparable can be found in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and is an almost identical example in white, veneered in ivory and was discovered in recent years when it was sold by Phillips, London 13 June 1995, lot 132. (See ill. 13 Cabinet, Augsburg circa 1660, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam). This piece is also predominantly decorated with pietra dura panels. In addition to these it also features small panels of lapis lazuli, around the pietra dura, which are fixed to the carcass with mounts. In contrast to the present cabinet, the ivory example has a secondary base below the central door. This base is exclusively decorated with lapis lazuli and gilt mounts. The sides of the Ballyfin cabinet are decorated more sumptuously than its ivory counterpart and have an additional pair of columns to the main body and the superstructure. The capitals of the columns to the front of the ebony cabinet are Ionic to the main section and Corinthian to the superstructure, whereas those of the ivory cabinet are all of the Corinthian order. The two cabinets differ further in the ornamentation of their mounts, in the motifs on the pietra dura panels, and in smaller details of the architectural arrangement. Aside from the obvious similarities of the overall structure, several aspects of the decoration, such as the bases of the columns, the use of some of the same mounts (notably some of the door furniture).

    Little is known about the silversmith Johann Spitzmacher (active 1655-1678) whose mark appears alongside the Augsburg town mark on the central mount of the Ballyfin Cabinet. He provided the silvergilt mounts for a nautilusbeecher circa 1670, now in the collection of the Nationalmuseum, Budapest. The mounts on the Ivory cabinet in the Rijksmuseum also carry the Spitzmacher mark and Augsburg town mark. The same fabrics being used for the lining of some of the drawers also indicates the distinct possibility that these two cabinets were made by the same workshop. Moreover both cabinets are inlaid with complex geometric patterns to the reverse, which seems paradoxical in view of the distinctly directional decorative façade.


    A further cabinet, in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan, is similar in its external form of both the previously mentioned cabinets, (see ill. 14 Cabinet, Augsburg, circa 1660. Possibly with later alteration of the original (pietra dura?) panels to marquetry. Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan) and a console table base also of later date. The columns on this cabinet are of the Doric order. The three cabinets viewed in their entirety therefore display the full range of the orders of architecture.

    It is documented that many workshops made several cabinets in the same manner at one time. For example, the cabinet-maker Andreas Miller and the goldsmith Maystetter made Kabinettschranks without contents, wherein the artistic and material effort as well as expense was concentrated on the cabinet itself, the cost of such a cabinet being between 100 and 240 Reichstaler. As suggested by the cabinets discussed here, it is possible that the workshop of Elias Boscher also made several similar cabinets at one time.

    Another cabinet decorated with pietra dura panels and of similar overall form is in the collection of the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin, although this cabinet has few close similarities with the cabinet offered here. (See ill. 15, Cabinet, Augsburg, circa 1660, Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum)

    A slightly later example with pietra dura panels is in the Weimar Schlossmuseum. This was made with a stand and has similar inlaid decoration to the back. The cabinet is conceived in a more sophisticated manner with its segmentation and coupled columns to the centre but in its general type is akin to the cabinets discussed here. The carcass bears the stamp of the city of Augsburg and the stamp for ebony.


    THE EARLY HISTORY OF BALLYFIN IN THE SETTLEMENT OF LAOIS

    The history of the Ballyfin estate goes back to the 17th century when it was granted to Patrick Crosbie as a reward for his services to Queen Elizabeth I. Crosbie built a castle on the lands but, as a supporter of Charles I, the property was confiscated by Cromwell. During the Restoration, the estate was granted to Periam Pole, son of William Pole of Shute in Devonshire. The Poles pulled down the castle and built a more modern house on the site. This, in turn, was destroyed by fire and a new building erected by Periam’s son. In 1778 the property passed to William Pole who added extensively to the house, building a large eastern front with a hall, dining room, drawing-room, library and bedrooms. He also planted woods and created a large man-made lake in front of the house. When William Pole died in 1781, the estate was inherited by his cousin William Wellesley-Pole, a brother of the Duke of Wellington.

    Ballyfin was amongst a number of principal residences described by Sir Charles Coote, a distant cousin of the 9th Baronet, in his survey of Laois published in 1802. The estate was, at that time, still the property of William Wellesley-Pole:

    The house is composed of three sides of a square and another extensive range goes off to the southward; this is hid by a plantation, and in this range are the kitchens and servants apartments etc. The rooms on the ground floor are very handsome and elegantly planned…The view from the windows of Ballyfin house is of the grandest scenery that can be conceived in an inland county comprising (sic.) the extensive and highly ornamental plantations, the lawn, the lake, the lofty mountains of Slieve Bloom, and the Dysart Hills, with almost the whole range of the county, and certainly is superior to anything else within its bounds. (Coote, 1801: 120)



    It has been suggested that Wellesley-Pole’s career declined, resulting in his decision in 1812 to sell Ballyfin. This attracted the attention of Sir Charles Coote, who had just attained his majority, and who saw the house as a suitable residence at the centre of his large and profitable landed estate, and one, which would reflect his social status as premier baronet of Ireland. The purchase was made and Coote soon became the new owner of Ballyfin

    SIR CHARLES HENRY COOTE M.P., 9TH AND PREMIER BARONET OF IRELAND, (1792-1864)

    Sir Charles Henry Coote became a baronet in 1802, at the age of ten. He was a descendent of the English settler Sir Charles Coote of Castle Coote, who in 1620, was appointed Provost - Marshal of the province of Connaught and Baronet of Ireland by King James I. His son, also Sir Charles was created Earl of Mountrath in 1661 and the title passed through the family until 1802 when the 7th Earl died without male issue and the Earldom expired. At this point the ancient baronetcy reverted to Sir Charles Henry Coote, great grandson of the Rev, Chidley Coote - who was the descendent of the second son of the first baronet - and son of Chidley Coote of Ash Hill, Co. Limerick.

    Although little has been written about Sir Charles’s life, it is known that on 26th November 1814 he married Caroline Elizabeth Whaley, daughter of John Whaley of Stephen’s Green, granddaughter of the Countess Clanwilliam and niece of the Earl of Meath . He was an active politician and became M.P. for the Queen’s County (re-named Laois in the 1920’s) twice, firstly from 1821-47 and secondly from 1852-59. His military career was distinguished by his being made a Colonel in the Queen’s County Militia from 1842 until his death.

    Together Sir Charles and his wife established themselves as an influential couple in the market town of Mountrath, with which their family had been associated since the Earldom was created. Writing in 1825, James Brewer noted:

    Several branches of manufacture were successfully cultivated here, so long back as the early years of the 17th century. At that time Sir Charles Coote, whose name and family are closely blended with the annals of this town, established here manufactories of linen and fustian, on an extensive scale. (Brewer, 1825:89)

    Evidently the Cootes were a philanthropic family for Lewis comments in 1844 that:

    The parochial school is under the patronage of Sir Charles Henry and Lady Coote who entirely support it; the average number of pupils is 100 of both sexes. (Lewis, 1844:96)

    Brewer goes on to note that the former residence of the Cootes was Ruish Hall, two miles from Mountrath, but by the turn of the 19th century in a bad state of repair. Two miles away in the other direction was Ballyfin House which was to provide a much more suitable home for such an important family.


    DOMINICK MADDEN AND THE REBUILDING OF BALLYFIN HOUSE
    The present proprietor, who has recently acquired the estate by purchase, has already expended, as we are informed, above £20,000, in improving the house and grounds…The happy combination of wood, water, and a varied surface, now present their respective and mingled beauties with the fullest effect. Nearly 1,200 acres of demesne land are enclosed by walls, exclusive of an adjoining park, well stocked with deer. (Brewer, 1825:95)

    Upon purchase of Ballyfin, Sir Charles decided to change the long, plain house, which was barely fifty years old, into something altogether more grand and fashionable. He did not begin work immediately – in the meantime perhaps embarking on a Grand Tour, or spending time in his London home, Connaught Place - but by 1820 he was ready to start on the project. His initial ideas were of a palatial residence, which would reflect his rank, stretching to over 220ft long. For the task he employed an Irish architect named Dominic Madden.

    Formerly an overseer of buildings for the Board of Works and latterly Measurer of Works to the Board – Madden had been dismissed in 1810, for overcharging and removing Government owned furniture to his house in Prussia Street, Dublin. Not surprisingly he decided to leave Dublin and move to Co. Galway where he was involved in the enlargement of Kilcolgan Castle near Clarinbridge; in redesigning the chapel at Mount Bellew; and in the remodelling of Dalgan House near Headford, for Patrick Kirwan. It is not known exactly how Madden came to be introduced to Sir Charles Coote, but the recent discovery by Patricia McCarthy & Kevin Mulligan of letters written by Madden to another client, Christopher Dillon Bellew of Mount Bellew, has shed new light on the early evolution of Ballyfin House .

    The letters reveal that Madden was employed to complete unexecuted plans drawn up by a previous architect referred to as ‘Mr Wyatt’, possibly James Wyatt who had died in 1813. This may explain why a relatively unknown architect was engaged on such a prestigious commission. A surviving bill shows an estimated construction cost of £23,501 for a house consisting of a central range with two flanking wings. Two years later in 1822 when building was already underway, Madden was suddenly replaced. Whether his past had caught up with him, or whether he was proving himself unfit for the job is not certain.


    THE ARCHITECTS RICHARD AND WILLIAM ‘VITRUVIUS’ MORRISON

    Sir Charles’s second choice for his grand project was father and son team Richard and William Morrison, the leading domestic architects in the country with a virtual monopoly on Irish country houses at the beginning of the 19th century. Their oeuvre, which has been fully documented elsewhere , is impressive and included such buildings as Lyons, Shelton Abbey, Kilruddery, Baronscourt and the court houses of Tralee and Carlow.

    After producing a series of different plans and elevations (Fig *), the Morrisons settled on a building whose principal front is of 13 bays with a giant pedimented ionic portico, prominently bearing the Coote coat of arms in the centre. The overall decorative scheme was sumptuous, with a profusion of marble and scagliola used throughout the building in mantelpieces and in the columns whose colours change depending on what room you are in. The entrance hall has a Roman mosaic floor and there are inlaid wooden floors in the principal rooms. Most spectacular perhaps is the quality of the deeply cut plasterwork in the top lit saloon, enlivened with animals and foliage, and described by McParland in his Country Life article as being ‘…one of the greatest achievements of Irish decorative plasterwork’ .

    When it was finished in 1826, the house was a ‘tour de force’ aptly described by McParland as one of the ‘grandest of all Irish country-house interiors’ .


    THE DECORATION OF THE LIBRARY

    ….from the ante-room you pass into the library, which is seventy feet by twenty four and a large Bay in the centre, likewise subdivided into compartments by screens of Scagliola columns (J.P.Neale, 1828: IV)

    In remodelling Ballyfin, the Morrisons were obliged to retain the Library which was at the South West end of the house as it had already been built when they started work on the project. It was characterised by a large apsidal window fronted by a colonnade of giant ionic columns and a top-lit rotunda next door, often compared with the library at nearby Emo Court, designed by Richard Morrison’s master, James Gandon. The Library occupied a huge space, running the full length of one side of the building, and its interior decoration was suitably grand. An interesting watercolour of the room, painted in around 1855 by the son-in-law of Sir Charles Coote, the Marquis de Massigny de la Pierre (Fig *) is a wonderful illustration of 19th century opulence. In it we see two figures, the seated man in the armchair, who is almost certainly Sir Charles, 9th Bart, and the young girl sitting on the stool, probably his grand daughter, Caroline, (daughter of the artist). The picture shows these figures surrounded by a profusion of elegant furnishings including classical sculptures, mounted oriental porcelain, French furniture and elaborate light fittings. Two inventories of the house drawn up in 1841 and 1862 record the presence of the Ballyfin cabinet in the library and a further late 19th century photograph (Fig *) reveals more French and Italian furniture as well as the cabinet, which can just be seen behind the marble statue on the left hand side. A recent paint analysis of the interior surfaces has revealed a restrained palette of yellows, greens and pinks against which the prominent black and gold ionic columns at either end of the room would have made a bold statement. The bright contrasting colours of the pietra dura cabinet fitted well with the marble and scagliola so cleverly used in the decoration of this room.



    A letter in the Coote archive points to a possible source for the Ballyfin Cabinet. It may have been supplied by the Dublin based Italian artist, Gaspare Gabrielli (b.1795, fl. 1805-30), who is recorded as having sent works of art including statues, pictures and china to Sir Charles Coote for Ballyfin. On 22nd November 1822, Gabrielli wrote a letter from Rome to Sir Charles Coote at Connaught House, London, in which he refers to seven cases dispatched from the Italian port of Leghorn (Livorno), which included two statues by Tadolini and his own painting of the Roman Forum . It is feasible that the Ballyfin cabinet was included amongst this shipment, since it is typical of the type of precious and exotic foreign object so desired by the Irish aristocracy at the time. It is also known that Lord Meath had ordered marbles, paintings and chimneypieces through Gabrielli between 1816-1817 , indicating that by this time Gabrielli was well-established as an agent and dealer.

    Another, rather tantalising possibility for the provenance of the furnishings at Ballyfin is suggested by a published account of the house dated 1844 by Samuel Lewis whose two-volume Topographical History of Ireland described the interior as follows:

    The interior is fitted up in the most costly style and has a fine collection of paintings, statues and busts and a large and well selected library; the pavement of the great hall was brought from Rome. The Saloon and Ball-Room are splendid apartments many of the articles of furniture of each were executed for George IV, when Prince of Wales, and purchased by the present possessor (Lewis, 1844:396).


    This reference to the purchase of works executed for George IV is intriguing and has often been quoted in subsequent accounts of the house . Although there are no recorded auctions of furniture during his reign, Lewis may have been referring to a sale of George IV’s furniture from Buckingham Palace, held in 1836, during the reign of William IV . However, although the sale included some high quality objects such as a pair of scagliola Florentine mosaic table tops and a pair of pier tables decorated with bronze sea nymphs together with a 19ft. glass dome designed by Doyle and intended for Carlton Palace , the Ballyfin Cabinet does not appear amongst the offered lots, nor is Coote’s name included in the list of purchasers . The likelihood of Sir Charles having made a private purchase is also doubtful since there seems to have been no social connection between George IV and Sir Charles Coote - certainly Ballyfin House would not have been ready in time for entertaining when the King made his famous state visit to Ireland in 1821.



    THE LATER HISTORY OF BALLYFIN

    When Sir Charles Coote died in 1864, the house was inherited by his son, the 10th Baronet and then to his brother the Rev. Sir Algernon Coote, who, in turn left it to his son Sir Algernon Coote. In 1927 the Ballyfin estate was purchased by the Irish Land Commission, while the house itself was acquired by the Patrician Order, an Irish teaching brotherhood who used the building as a boarding school, managing to preserve the historic part of the house by adding extensions to accommodate the necessary classrooms. However, the escalating cost of maintaining the property presented increasingly difficulties, and in 2002 Ballyfin was purchased by a new private owner who is currently restoring and conserving the historic buildings, garden and park before opening the house to paying guests.
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