Frick Collection opens Gold, Jasper, and Carnelian. Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court

. May 30, 2012 . 0 Comments

The Frick Collection presents Gold, Jasper, and Carnelian. Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court, an exhibition on view May 30 through August 19, 2012.

Johann Christian Neuber (1736–1808) was one of Dresden’s most famous goldsmiths. Sometime before 1775 he was named court jeweler to Friedrich Augustus III, elector of Saxony, and in 1785 he was appointed curator of the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault), the magnificent royal collection of Augustus the Strong, the founder of the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory. A travel book published in 1782 that listed Dresden’s notable sights praised Neuber’s “extraordinary dexterity,” noting that “his pieces worked in mosaic are especially admired by all connoisseurs.”

For more than thirty years, Neuber created small gold boxes, chatelaines, and watchcases decorated with local stones such as agate, jasper, and carnelian. He fashioned enchanting landscapes, elaborate floral designs, and complex geometric patterns using cut stones, often incorporating Meissen porcelain plaques, cameos, and miniatures into his pieces. These one-of-a-kind objects, which reflect the Saxon court’s interest in both luxury items and the natural sciences, remain prized treasures today, but have never before been shown together in a monographic exhibition. Gold, Jasper, and Carnelian: Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court will offer visitors to the Frick the first comprehensive introduction to this master craftsman’s oeuvre by highlighting approximately thirty-five boxes and other objects from the Grünes Gewölbe of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, and private collections in Europe and the United States. Included in the exhibition will be several quartz specimens from the American Museum of Natural History to illustrate the raw materials used by Neuber in his work. The exhibition is on view this spring and summer in the Frick’s Oval Room, and will be accompanied by a publication and related public programs.

Comments Frick Director Ian Wardropper, “These unique and inventive objects were treasured in the eighteenth century, but, remarkably, have never before been shown together. European and American audiences have had much more exposure to exhibitions relating to commissions by the contemporary French court. We are delighted to introduce our visitors the oeuvre of this ingenious artisan through the upcoming exhibition, which together with our current Portico Gallery show, White Gold: Highlights from the Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain, will offer them a sense of the important contributions made by those at work for the Saxon court at Dresden. And, I am pleased to announce that the Meissen porcelain exhibition will now be extended through January 6, 2013.
Gold, Jasper, and Carnelian: Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court is co-organized by Grünes Gewölbe, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, The Frick Collection, and Galerie J. Kugel, Paris. The exhibition’s presentation at The Frick Collection is coordinated by Director Ian Wardropper and Charlotte Vignon, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts. Support for the New York presentation has been generously provided by Walter and Vera Eberstadt, Aso O. Tavitian, Margot and Jerry Bogert, and an anonymous donor.

Johann Christian Neuber was born in 1736 in the town of Neuwernsdorf in Saxony and at the age of sixteen registered as an apprentice in the Dresden workshop of goldsmith Johann Friedrich Tectaon, where he remained for six years. In 1762 he became a master of the Dresden guild of goldsmiths and, around 1775, the official jeweler of the Saxon court. Illustrated on page one is a small oval box decorated on all sides with landscapes, an excellent early example of Neuber’s extraordinary skill. Using tiny pieces of cut stones, he crafted a complex mosaic depicting elaborate scenes of pastoral life: on the lid, a couple accompanied by their dog sit under a tree with individual leaves made of green jasper. An antique ruin and a village with a castle on top of a hill can be seen in the distance, while the decorations on the box’s sides include a shepherdess tending her sheep. Such virtuosity is extremely rare, even for a master such as Neuber. More characteristic, but equally exquisite, are Neuber’s boxes decorated with colorful flowers. In the example at right, Neuber used yellow, orange, and red jasper for the tulips; lapis lazuli for the forget-me-nots; amethyst for the irises; white agate for the gardenias; carnelian for the primroses; and various shades of green jasper for the leaves. This mosaic is inlaid into a background of burnished gold, which gives the box a particularly luxurious appearance.

During the 1770s and 1780s, Neuber’s naturalistic designs evolved into a more classical style. Such miniatures, usually a portrait of a loved one, occasionally appear on the lids of Neuber’s boxes. These boxes show that Neuber, who rarely repeated a design, experimented with a variety of techniques to create an astonishing range of objects.

The Frick Collection
1 East 70th Street, near Fifth Avenue.
Phone: 212.288.0700

Category: Antiquities

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