An important silver and agate box. Josef Hoffmann, Wiener Werkstätte 1911
Josef Hoffmann ( Pirnitz 1870-1956 Vienna) was one of the founders of the Vienna Secession, an artists’ group…
A rock crystal goblet with golden mounts. The goblet has three nodes and is raised on
a circular stepped foot. The rim of the glass, the nodes and the foot have partly openworked
golden mounts. The upper rim is engraved with a band of branches and foliage
on a hatched ground above a band of overlapping leaves. The loose cover is mounted
with a broad rim with chased decoration in Renaissance style.
In the sixteenth century, mounted rock crystal objects such as coupes were the
privilege of the high nobility and royals. They commissioned such objects to adorn
their palaces. In the Middle Ages, drinking glasses or amulets made of cut rock crystal
were used because it was believed that the crystal would break or change colour when
Rock crystal has been prized in many world cultures for its translucence and purity;
cold and stony to the touch, yet perceived by the eye as a clear liquid. These qualities
gave it an almost magical significance through the centuries and assured it a special
place in the Kunstkammer tradition. The raw materials were innately precious; while
the cost and specialist skills involved in working them add to their prestige.
It is a challenge to work this hardstone. As a form of quartz, rock crystal is one of the
hardest minerals known. Cutting and shaping it into an elegant form required huge
grinding wheels and drills and perfect skills of the craftsmen.
In the sixteenth century, the Romanovs in Russia owned various pieces that adorned
their tables and until the nineteenth century these confirmed the family’s importance
and heritage. In the nineteenth century, families such as the Rothschilds collected
pieces like this.
Thus, the demand for mounted cut rock crystal objects increased. Goldsmiths began to
produce objects in Neo-Renaissance style that were popular with collectors. Some were
falsifications but more often these pieces were made in commission.
In 1851 the Rothschilds gave a mounted rock crystal coupe that was made in 1849 by
the then world-famous Paris jeweler François-Désiré Froment Meurice, as a
wedding-gift. Its rim bears an inscription of the giver as well as the receiver.
The marks of this goblet are indistinct. Possibly they are pseudo-marks to make the
goblet look old. It is therefore not clear where the goblet was made.
The coat-of-arms, however, reveal the name of the first owner.
The rock crystal goblet is engraved with the coat-of-arms of the Earl of Milltown,
a family from Dublin who gained their fortune with breweries. The title of Earl of
Milltown was created in 1763 by the Peerage of Ireland for the Irish politician Joseph
Leeson (1701-1783), who previously had become the Baron Russborough (County of
Wicklow) in 1756 and Viscount Russborough, of Russelltown (County of Wicklow) in
In 1744-1755 Leeson built the magnificent palladian Russborough House, after a
design by Richard Cassels (1690-1751) – the most elongated (with a front of 210
meters) and, according to many, the most beautiful house in Ireland. The first Earl of
Milltown was a “great art collector”. He took his soon Joseph Leeson (1730-1801) on
a ‘Grand Tour’ to Rome, where Leeson junior had his portrait painted by the famous
Pompeio Batoni and where father and son “had collected a great deal of artwork to
enrich the collection of their London house” (Turin and the British in the Age of the
Grand Tour, p. 405). The second Earl was a member of the Irish House of Commons
from 1757 until 1761. The family extinguished with Henry Leeson, 7th Earl of
Milltown (1837-1891), great-grandson of the first Earl. The title has been dormant
ever since. This nineteenth century goblet probably helped creating the idea that the family was
of ancient heritage.
The goldsmith-jeweler who produced the mounts in Neo-Renaissance style made a piece of exquisite artwork that was of the same quality as its sixteenth- and seventeenth-century
predecessors. The masterpieces that were produced in this period were celebrated as such.
The aforementioned French jeweler François-Désiré Froment Meurice was
hailed as the Cellini of his time. In the eyes of his contemporaries he personified the
renaissance of the art of the Parisian goldsmiths of the Romantic period.
Private collection, the Netherlands
ncxzcxnvjkxcvcxheight 20.2 cm, diameter 7.6 cm