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Box

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (probably, made)

  • Date:

    1740-1765 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Turtle shell overlaid with chased gold and piqué in gold

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:

    907-1882

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 3, case CA3

This large box is one of the finest gold-mounted turtle-shell boxes known from the eighteenth century. It was made to contain snuff (powdered tobacco which was inhaled through the nose).

On the lid Bellona, goddess of war, shows the plan of a fortification to a warrior in Roman military dress. The box, which was probably made in Germany, may have been owned by, or a presentation to, a soldier who took part in the campaigns fought in Europe in the middle decades of the eighteenth century, most notably the Seven Years War (1757-63). The warrior holds a grenade, a weapon of attack against fortifications, and a symbol of the grenadier companies and regiments which, because they included many of the strongest soldiers, frequently had the reputation of being élite troops.

The warfare of the period called Bellona into action in art. In Kew Gardens William Chambers designed the Temple of Bellona in 1760 to hold plaques commemorating the regiments which fought in the Seven Years War.

Physical description

Oval turtle-shell box mounted in gold, overlaid with chased gold and decorated with gold piqué work. On the lid a scene of Bellona displaying the plan of a fortification to a seated military commander in Roman dress holding a grenade in his left hand and resting his right hand on his sword. In the background to the viewer's left are armourers working on anvils and to the right a castle or fortified town on top of a rocky cliff. In the foreground a trophy of arms, drums and a cannon includes a musket with bayonet. Around the sides and on the bases trophies of arms in chased gold.

Place of Origin

Germany (probably, made)

Date

1740-1765 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Turtle shell overlaid with chased gold and piqué in gold

Dimensions

Length: 99 mm, Width: 85 mm, Height: 43 mm

Object history note

When acquired in 1882 as part of the Jones Collection, the box carried the story that it had been a present from Louis XIV to Marshal Vauban, presumably because of the style of fortification shown on Bellona's plan and on another plan on the base of the box. However, as the Jones Collection Catalogue stated in 1924 'the design is too late for this' (see citation). It is, however, entirely credible that this magificent and large box was a present to a military commander in the middle of the 18th century.

Historical context note

'Louis XIV died repenting that he had "loved war too much". It was an epitaph that could have been applied to most of his contemporaries, because war and its attendant military and diplomatic arts were the true sport of kings.' (Swann, Julian. 'Politics and the state in eighteenth-century Europe'. In T. C. W. Blanning, ed. The Eighteenth Century: Europe 1688-1815. Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 17).

For Bellona during the Seven Years War (1756-63), see, for example,

1. Vignettes by Georg Friedrich Schmidt for the Quarto edition de luxe of Frederick the Great, Poesies modernes, published by Johann Friedrich Voss, 1760. Among other roles Bellona appears 'showing a plan of a sieged city to a Prussian general: city in the distance' (British Museum registration number 1838,1215.406; quotation from British Museum Search the Collection Database).

2. Temple of Bellona designed in 1760 by William Chambers for Kew Gardens to contain plaques which bear the names of British and Hanoverian regiments which distinguished themselves during the Seven Years War.

For Versailles Charles Lebrun (1619-90) had painted Bellona in the Salon de la Guerre.

The grenade which the commander holds, and which appears again in one of the trophies, is an appropriate attribute for an 18th century soldier, but it may have a further significance. It could be connected to a successful attack by the recipient of the box or to his command of grenadiers, who had a role in attacking fortifications. Grenadier companies or regiments, because they were formed of the most powerful men, acquired an élite status.

The style of the chasing, the form of the rococo ornament, and perhaps also the subject, suggest that the box was made in Germany. The influence of German gold chasers in London was such that it can be difficult to differentiate London chasing from German, particularly on mounted objects. While the figure chasing could have been executed in London, the ornament appears to have the refined and elegant scroll and shellwork which is associated with Augsburg (see for example, S. Grandjean, K. Aschengreen Piacenti, C. Truman, A. Blunt, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: Gold Boxes and Miniatures of the Eighteenth Century, Fribourg: Office du Livre, 1975, pp. 94-96).

Descriptive line

Oval turtle-shell box mounted in gold and decorated on the lid with a scene of Bellona and a seated military commander in Roman dress, probably Germany, 1740-65

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Catalogue of the Jones Collection Part II.-Ceramics, Ormolu, Goldsmiths' Work, Enamels etc., London: Board of Education, 1924, page 81, no.323
Zech, Heike, "'Theatre of War': Two Enamelled Copper Snuffboxes with Maps Relating to the Seven Years' War", The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, Vol. 18, June 2010, pp. 48-55, ill. p. 54
Patterson, Angus, "Power and Glory", Chapter, Medlam, Sarah, and Miller, Lesley Ellis, Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, V&A Publishing, London, 2011, pp. 58-59

Materials

Turtle shell; Gold

Techniques

Chasing; Piqué work

Subjects depicted

Trophy of arms

Categories

Containers; Jewellery; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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