Fabrique Royale [Berlin]
Table snuff box c.1770-75
Bloodstone, vari-coloured gold, foiled diamonds | RCIN 9044
Green jasper snuff-box in Louis XV style mounted with gold borders finely chased with flowers and foliage in vari-coloured gold. Panels and borders richly overlaid with baskets and sprays of flowers, trophies and foliage in diamonds with coloured backing.
This spectacular bloodstone box is encrusted with nearly three thousand diamonds backed with delicately coloured foils in shades of pink and yellow. It is one of the finest of the series of boxes made in the Fabrique Royale in Berlin and associated with Frederick II ('the Great') of Prussia (1712-86). Frederick was a passionate snuff-taker and is said to have had a collection of over three hundred boxes; one box is even said to have saved his life by deflecting a bullet during battle.
Jewellers flocked to Berlin to supply the King and the Prussian court with elaborate boxes of hardstone, gold and enamel. Many other boxes were made as diplomatic gifts. The brothers André and Jean-Louis Jordan and Daniel Baudesson were among the most frequent suppliers but an absence of hallmarks on surviving examples makes it difficult to attribute individual boxes to particular makers. Many of the box designs are attributed to Jean Guillaume George Krüger, who arrived in Berlin from Paris in 1753. Frederick himself is said to have contributed to the design of many boxes.
The snuff box is unique among the surviving Frederick the Great boxes for both its elaborately chased vari-coloured gold mounts and its particularly lavish use of diamonds. Although its early provenance remains unclear it was certainly an important royal commission and was possibly made for Frederick's personal use. It was latterly in the Russian imperial collection, which may suggest that it was a gift from Frederick the Great to Catherine the Great. However, as the box is not listed in early Russian inventories it is more likely to have belonged to Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (1798-1860), consort of Tsar Nicholas I. The Tsarina was the daughter of Frederick William III of Prussia, who succeeded to the Prussian throne in 1797 and is known to have presented his son Albrecht with one of Frederick the Great's boxes.
One hundred and twenty-four boxes were listed in the Prussian royal palaces following Frederick's death. Many of these were subsequently given away and only fourteen remained in the Prussian royal collection one hundred years later.
Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002
ProvenanceMade for Frederick II of Prussia; probably inherited by Frederick William III of Prussia and given to his daughter, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna; thence by descent to Tsar Nicholas II; seized by the Soviet authorities 1917 (inv. 1922, no. 80); by whom sold to a British syndicate; by whom sold Christie's, London, 16 March 1927 (lot 91); bought by Levy; M. La Comtesse Alain de Villeneuve; by whom sold Christie's, London, 22 July 1932 (lot 141); bought by Queen Mary (£1,000; QMPP, VII, no. 95), July 1932.
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