An ivory contrefait

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Origin
Southern German
Period
17th century
Material
Ivory, Partially polychromed
Dimensions
43.7 cm
Literature

A. Vanautgaerden (ed.), Anatomie des Vanités, exh. cat., Musée Maison d'Erasme, Brussels, 2008, p. 92

Museums

Brussels, Musée Maison d'Erasme, Anatomie des Vanités, 2008

Provenance

Anthony Embden, Paris, 1990

The contrefait has a painted miniature portrait of a nobleman on the interior of the central orb.

Perhaps the highest accomplishment of the art of turning ivory are the hollow spheres containing internally-turned capsules and nesting spheres known as contrefait.  These were among the most difficult forms in the turner's repertoire, with almost eggshell-thin ivory walls and complex forms turned within through a small aperture. The attempt to understand the technique by which these spheres are created is baffling to the viewer, and in this astonishment lies their intellectual appeal.

The practice required a highly sophisticated and perfectly calibrated lathe operated by a master turner. The earliest known example is a sphere turned by Giovanni Ambrogio Maggiore of Milan in 1582 now preserved in the Museo degli Argenti in Florence (Schmidt and Sfameli, op. cit., pp. 112-113, cat. no. 17). Egidius Lobenigk of Dresden was another innovator of the form, and in the Grünes Gewölbe there are four signed spheres of the early 17th century by Georg Friedel (Syndram and Scherner, op. cit., 2004, p. 197, no. 91).

The present contrefait features an internally-turned circular box with thin bars pierced through either side of the sphere: this mechanism allows the viewer to open and close the internal compartment in which is contained a tiny portrait. An engraving accompanying Doppelmayer's Historisches Nachricht of 1730 describes a contrefait of similar form with the same internal circular hinged box and opening mechanism by Lorenz Zick (Maurice, op. cit., p. 111, no. 119). Another of very similar form, containing a portrait of Empress Maria Theresia, is in the Kremsmünster monastery collection (Philippovich, op. cit., p. 417, no. 368)

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