This elaborate casket reflects two trends in 18th-century aristocratic taste: the popularity of valuable objects mounted in precious metals, and the desire for fine porcelain imported from east Asia.

While the practice of mounting valuable items in gold, silver and bronze for decoration and protection dated back to the medieval period, mounting objects in ormolu (gilt bronze) became especially popular from the 17th century onwards, as aristocrats in European courts sought to emulate the tastes of Louis XIV of France. In the same period, porcelain from China (and later, following the outbreak of civil war, Japan) came to be seen as a luxury. It was imported to Europe by the East India Company and sold on to royal and aristocratic clients, many of whom commissioned elaborate pieces which could take up to three years to deliver. By the mid-18th century, the French guild of fondeurs-doreurs had begun mounting imported porcelain in ormolu to enhance the decorative qualities of the original pieces, a technique which spread rapidly across Europe. This casket, created in the pre-Rococo Régence style, has previously been attributed to a Viennese craftsman, although the quality of the workmanship suggests it may be the product of a French workshop. It features Chinese porcelain from the Kang Hsi dynasty. The central plaque is decorated with a bird on a flowering branch, while the surrounding panels are illustrated with flowers, vases, trees and landscapes. It forms a near-pair with a casket kept in Vienna's Imperial Palace, which comprises about 20 panels of Japanese porcelain set in almost identical silver mounts. This work was acquired with the assistance of the Wolfson Foundation.


Probably William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale; by descent; Christie's; A & J Speelman.

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