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Augsburg Table Cabinet by Elias Boscher, pre-sale estimate of £400,000-600,000. Photo: Bonhams

LONDON.- The extraordinary piece is one of a small group of highly important table-top cabinets made in Augsburg, Germany during the mid-17th century. Standing roughly 85cm high and wide, and made of ebony, silver and Italian pietre dure panels, this ‘Kunstkammer’ is set to be the star of the European Furniture, Sculpture, and Works of Art sale on December 5th, with a pre-sale estimate of £400,000-600,000.

The forthcoming sale of this remarkable and extremely rare piece represents a truly exciting event for the art world. It has been preserved in immaculate condition, and we see it today as it stood some 350 years ago.

The cabinet, circa 1660, is one of only a small group known to still exist, produced at a time when the craftsmanship and prestige of Augsburg’s cabinetmakers was unsurpassed throughout Europe. They were made to reflect the social standing, intellect and wealth of the commissioning patron, and were fashioned from the most expensive and exclusive materials sourced from around the world. The pietre dure panels – marble inlaid with designs depicting birds and flowers in lapis lazuli and other hard stones – were produced by the Florentine Grand Ducal Workshops, or ‘Opificio delle Pietre Dure.’

Within this cabinet are some 40-plus drawers or compartments, some hidden, and all lined with exotic silks and intricate wooden marquetry. So complex is its design, that the last owner recently discovered a new compartment when exploring the cabinet with his grandchildren. They were used to house collections of ‘curiosities’ and ‘microcosms of the universe’ – an encyclopaedic range of natural and man-made wonders encompassing natural history artefacts, precious stones and metals, shells, minerals, scientific instruments and other prized possessions, designed to reflect the entire cosmos on a miniature scale.

The signature in pencil on the underside which reads ‘Elias Boscher gemacht’ (‘made’) together with the hallmark of known Augsburg silversmith Johann Spitzmacher on the gilt mounts, are highly unusual for such a work of art, and provide a crucial artistic attribution. The relatively recent rediscovery of the cabinet in 2006 has contributed significantly to our knowledge of a group of pieces that represent a zenith in Continental decorative furniture making. The remarkable provenance and museum-quality condition also add greatly to this cabinet’s value and prestige.

Francois Le Brun, director of European furniture at Bonhams, comments: “We are thrilled to be offering for sale this magnificent mid-17th century Kunstkammer cabinet, once part of the private Coote collection.

The impact of the vibrantly colourful pietre-dure panels depicting birds and flowers inset in the ebony carcass, and mounted with rich silver-gilt mounts, is truly mesmerising. A rare opportunity, this beautiful survival from the Grand Ducal Workshops will attract international interest and draw collectors, institutions and dealers from around the world to Bonhams London”.

An ivory cabinet with pietre dure panels, so similar to the present lot as to be a sister piece, is in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.


Augsburg Table Cabinet by Elias Boscher, pre-sale estimate of £400,000-600,000. Photo: Bonhams