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A highly important and rare German gilt-bronze mounted, brass inlaid burr elm, rosewood and parquetry bureau cabinet

About the object

A highly important and rare German gilt-bronze-mounted brass inlaid burr elm, rosewood and parquetry bureau cabinet attributed to Johann Christoph Hesse, Dresden\ncirca 1740-42, With a swan neck pediment above a pair of mirrored doors opening to reveal a fitted interior with a central mirrored niche with fluted glass pilasters above a cube parquetry floor inlaid in ebony, ivory and mahogany flanked pilasters with composite capitals surmounted by a swan neck pediment flanked by two serpentine drawers mounted with strapwork and foliage above two narrow drawers and eight further drawers above three frieze drawers, the door with canted stiles and the rear stiles with pilasters with composite capitals, the lower section with a serpentine fall-front opening to reveal a fitted interior with one long drawer above a recess flanked on either side by three serpentine drawers, the fall-front flanked by scrolled corbels, the kneehole comprised of four long drawers with elaborately cast foliate 'C'-scroll and rocaille escutcheons, the knees within an acanthus spray above a tasselled lambrequin, the sides and fall-front inlaid with herringbone parquetry banding on a platform base, the whole inlaid with pewter stringing and applied with foliate and rocaille cast mounts throughout; one mirror plate replaced; the other possibly resilvered \n240cm. high, 137cm. wide, 79cm. deep; 7ft.10½in., 4ft. 5¾in. 2ft. 7in.


Comparative Literature:

R. von Arps-Aubert, Sächsische Barockmöbel 1700-1770, Berlin 1939

C. Gurlitt, Beschreibende Darstellung der Olteren Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler des Königreiches Sachsen, Amtshauptmannschaft Löbau, Dresden, 1910, vol.34, p.287.

G. Haase, 'Dresdener Mobel -Kimmel oder Leuchte?', Antiquitäten Zeitung, 30th year, No.1, 2002, pp.12-13, ill.2.

G. Haase, Dresdener Mabel des 18. Jahrhunderts, leipzig, 1983, cat.92

C. Wilk ed., Western furniture 1350 to the present day, Victoria & Albert Museum 1996, pp. 98-99).

This magnificent monumental bureau cabinet which lay undiscovered for nearly a century and a half represents the apogee of German cabinet-making in the mid  18th century and almost certainly  represents a Masterpiece or Meisterstück of Johann Christoph Hesse (a. 1720-d. 1776), who became court-cabinet-maker in 1761.

This bureau-cabinet also known as the `Kuppritz bureau cabinet'  is outstanding not only for its architectural form with its ingenious construction and choicest veneers but also for its superbly cast and chased mounts which equal that of those produced by the most celebrated French bronziers.

The History and Provenance of the  Bureau-cabinet:

Johann Christian Kindt was the owner of the legendary inn `Zum Goldener Engel' (`To the Golden Angel') in the centre of Dresden's historic old town and this bureau-cabinet was most probably acquired by him for the inn which  was the haunt of celebrated poets, authors and attracted luminaries such as Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Goldener Engel with its `twenty-four elegantly furnished and appointed Rooms', was sold in 1816 by Kindt's son, Christian Heinrich and he acquired two larger estates in Saxony, Schloss Kuppritz and Hochkirch.

On 23rd November 1816, after petitioning Friedrich Augustus the Just of Saxony who reigned from 1768-1827, he was elevated to the nobility and granted his `Adelsdiplom'  and his furniture at the inn according to von Loeben family history, was transferred to Schloss Kuppritz including this bureau-cabinet-see fig.1. In December 1874, Johann Christian Kindt died without leaving any heirs and he was soon followed by his wife, so the estate passed to the three nephews of his wife. One of them Rudolf Elwir Hähnel, the great-grandfather of the consignor of the piece in 2003, inherited Kuppritz and Hochkirch. His daughter Maria (1873-1923) married the Royal Saxon Major Gustav Aemil von Loeben, a native of Dresden and the scion of an ancient noble family and this bureau-cabinet was taken from Saxony by their daughter Marie-Luise-Bergsträsser (1895-1942) in 1930.

Schloss Kuppritz:

In 1860, G.A. Poenicke described the region where Kuppritz is situated in his Album of Noble Manors and Castles in the Kingdom of Saxony as `one of the most beautiful and charming in the Oberlausitz '. The manor house is an 18th century baroque building and this piece the `Kuppritz Bureau-Cabinet' as it was named by the von Loeben family, was positioned to the right of the window in the Blauer Saal until 1930-see fig. 4. Further, one can see in the photograph portraits of Johann Christian Kindt, his son Christian Heinrich von Kint and his wife Amalie Auguste.

In the 34th issue of the `Beschreibendee Darstellung der älteren Bau-und Kunstdenkmäler des Königreiches Sachsen, Amtshauptmannschaft Löbau', the bureau-cabinet in Schloss Kuppritz is singled out by the celebrated art historian and curator Cornelius Gurlitt (1850-1938) for mention, when preparing an inventory in 1910; ` magnificent Rococo bureau-cabinet, Corinthian pilasters at the sides, superb scrolled mounts and fittings; locks in cartouche form. Said to have been made in Dresden  1740/42 as a masterpiece.'

Cornelius Gurlitt did not illustrate the cabinet and neither the art historian Rudolf von Arps-Aubert  (1894-1945) who published the first `History of Saxon Baroque furnishings' in 1939 nor Gisela Haase who wrote the book `Dresdener Möbel'  were aware of this Dresden cabinet as it had been in a Munich private dwelling since 1930 and was no longer at Schloss Kuppritz.

According to Hans von Loeben, the last owner of Schloss Kuppritz, a secret compartment within the cabinet contained the Meisterbrief of  a Dresden cabinet-maker of around 1740/42.

Comparative Pieces:

-A bureau cabinet circa 1735, in Schloss Moritzburg of identical height and of very similar though more sober outline with a similarly shaped fall-front and kneehole, though lacking the exhuberant rococo mounts which are on the present bureau, illustrated by R. von Arps-Aubert,  op. cit., p.57 and reproduced here in fig. 2.

-A bureau cabinet circa 1745/50, in the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, although with just one mirrored door  illustrated by G. Haase,  op. cit., cat. 92, fig. 3.

- A further bureau cabinet cabinet signed by Johann Gottfried Leuchte as his Meisterstück in 1744-46, illustrated R. von Arps-Aubert, ibid, cat.58, which is of similar proportions and its doors and angles mounted with closely related composite capitals and reproduced here in fig 3.

There are several examples of related Dresden bureau cabinets with the distinctive  feature of a sloping and S-shaped fall-front (apart from the Leuchte bureau-cabinet, ante) which when opened fits exactly into the shaped profile above the commode section and they also have the curved kneehole in the lower section. The brass-inlay and brass mouldings on the present bureau cabinet can be be seen on only two other cabinets; the Leuchte's bureau cabinet and the one from the collections of the 6th Earl of Rosebery at Mentmore, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, which has been attributed to Michael Kimmel (1714-1794), illustrated in C. Wilk, op. cit.,  pp. 98-99.

Dresden cabinet-Making in the 18th century:

The form of this piece is based on the bureau cabinet with a commode base and a secrétaire or bureau in the central section with a cabinet superstructure and was popularised in England during the reign of William and Mary (1689-1702) in the 18th century and widely copied in particular in the German states. In Dresden from 1734 onwards, it became one of the recognized forms according to Wilk, op. cit., for an apprentice to offer as a masterpiece. The bureau cabinet developed with its functional design and displayed the natural beauty of the wood veneers and were extremely popular.

Archive records and castle inventories demonstrate the popularity of this type of piece and in 1727, Dresden cabinet-makers employed by the court and city delivered fifty-five walnut bureau cabinets to the Dresden Court. The Schloss Moritzburg inventory in 1733 lists twenty-one pieces of this type of writing cabinet.

The bureau-cabinets from Dresden often have mirrored doors which were often made locally at the Friedrichthal looking-glass manufactory owned by the state of Saxony and then finished in Dresden. The bureau-cabinet was of primary importance in the furnishing of Saxon palaces and Castles such as those at Dresden, Moritzburg and Pillnitz. They could be used not only for writing and storing letters but also for displaying rare objects such as bottles, glasses and other precious items as well as functioning as ladies dressing tables.

From around the 1740's, the shape of the Dresden bureau cabinet started to liberate itself from the more austere English secrétaire and the carcass displayed a more serpentine and bombé outline and often had a broken pediment reflecting the Dresden rococo style. Another feature of many bureau-cabinets from Dresden from the 1740's was the S-shaped fall-front fitting into the chest of drawers section.

The mounts:

The present bureau-cabinet with its beautiful rosewood veneer is embellished with delicate rococo mounts and the mounts on this particular bureau cabinet are exquisitely modelled and the chasing is of superlative quality. The early rococo carvings of the court-carver Joseph Deibel (1716-93) and the civil engineer Johann Christoph Knöffel  (1686-1752) exerted a formative influence on Dresden rococo ornament.

These superbly modelled and chased gilt-bronze mounts cast with flowers, leaves and rocaille and the knee mounts cast with a tasseled lambrequin, the latter reminicent of Régence models, together with the composite capitals and pierced strapwork on two of the internal drawers confirm this piece as one the most outstanding examples of  German cabinet-making combined with the innovation of the bronzier. The result is an exhuberant representation of the Dresden rococo.

Apart from the influences of the court carvers in Dresden, one should not discount the influence of the mounts on French furnishings which were acquired by the court together with contemporary engravings. See for example the old engravings reproduced in fig. 5. from the Dresden Kupferstichkabinett and the Meissen porcelain factory.

It is interesting to note that belt-makers or locksmiths were usually responsible for making mounts although their names rarely apepar on invoices and furniture inventories. The court cabinet-makers Peter Hoese (1686-1761) and Johann Christoph Schwartz (d. 1757) are known to have used mounts made by the court locksmith Johann Dietrich Gertz for their furniture in 1727 and the cabinet-maker Michael Kimmel obtained his mounts from the belt-maker Mehlgart. Master-cabinet makers were also known to have occasionally employed apprentice-belt-makers to make mounts they needed.

Johann Christoph Hesse (a. 1720-d. 1776):

Hesse was recorded in Dresden from 1720 and commenced his apprenticeship under Johann Heinrich Graff on 22nd April that same year. He became court cabinet-maker in 1761 and pieces by him are listed in the inventories of the Dresden palaces and the court. He collaborated on the interior decoration of Hubertusburg, the royal hunting lodge.

He began his `Muthzeit' under Master Graff on 25th May 1739 and by 23rd May 1740, he `presented his model drawing' . He started on his masterpiece in 1740 but did not show it to the guild masters until 19th September 1742 and he was reprimanded for not complying with the measurement requirements and for spending over two years rather than the specified one year on the piece. The measurements for the height of his masterpiece come up to about two centimetres less than the the height recorded of the `Kuppritz Bureau-Cabinet'.  The fact that he was working on his Masterpiece between 1740-42 and the minor discrepancy with the measurements lend credence to the view that this magnificvent bureau was indeed his Masterpiece.


240cm. high, 137cm. wide, 79cm. deep; 7ft.10½in., 4ft. 5¾in. 2ft. 7in.


Almost certainly acquired by Johann Christian Kindt, for the 'Goldener Engel', his hotel in Dresden, before 1816

Thence by descent to Christian Heinrich von Kindt (d. 1874), Rittergut Kuppritz, Saxony, and by descent at Kuppritz to Rudolf Elwir Hahnel (d. 1875) and thence by descent to

Maria von Loeben (1873-1923) and by descent to

Maria-Luise Bergsträsser (1895-1942), Munich, and by descent and sold as lot 120, Christie's, London, 11th December 2003.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.