Ivory contrefait

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Spa, Belgium
18th century
ivory, partially polychromed
43.7 cm

J. Connors, 'Ars Tornandi: Baroque Architecture and the Lathe' Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, LIII, 1990, pp. 217 - 236.
W. Koeppe, Making Marvels, Science and Splendor at the courts of Europe, New York 2020, p. 139, 140.
J. de Limbourg, Nouveaux amusemens des eaux de Spa, 1763, p. 381, 382.
E. v. Philippovich, Elfenbein, Munich 1982, p. 417, cat. no. 368.
K. Maurice, Der drechselnde Souverän, Zurich 1985, p. 111, cat. no. 119.
E. Schmidt & M. Sfameli (ed.), Diafane Passioni Avori barocchi dalle corti europee, Florence 2013, cat. no.17.
D. Syndram & A. Scherner (ed.) Princely Splendour: the Dresden Court, 1580-1620, Dresden 2004, p. 197, no. 91.
A. Vanautgaerden (ed.), Anatomie des Vanités, Brussels 2008, p. 92.


Exhibited: Musée Maison d'Erasme, Brussel, Anatomie des Vanités, 2008.
A very similar ivory contrefait, by Lambert Xhrouet (dated 1746, Spa), is in the collection of the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (inv. no. R. 4781).


Anthony Embden, Paris, 1990

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This extraordinary and marvelous ivory contrefait consists of a finely turned stem with multiple hollow spheres with internally turned capsules. These decorative spheres, all different from each other, were among the most difficult forms to master; through a small aperture, the thin ivory was carved and turned from within, a delicate and complex task. The orb in the middle of the contrefait has 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 painted miniature portrait of a nobleman. The contrefait was made from a single piece of ivory and required not only a steady hand but also an intellectual approach to the design of the piece and a perfectly calibrated lathe. There is a very similar turned-ivory object in the collection of the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, signed and dated: 'FAIT PAR L:XHROUUET A SPA 1746'. This Lambert Xhrouet was a high-skilled turner, designer and supplier of rose-engine lathes. He teached the art of ivory-turning to several members of the European nobility, including Emperor Francis I at the court of Vienna in 1748, Louis Philippe I de Bourbon, the Duke of Orléans in Paris, the Duke of Lorraine and Frederick II, Margrave of Brandenburg - Bayreuth. Based on the similarities between this contrefait and the ivory-turned object in the collection of the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, the objects probably are from the same hand, and can be attributed to Lambert Xhrouet.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, turning was a distinguished hobby, practised by European nobility, princes, and kings. The turning of ivory, using a mechanically powered lathe, was seen as an appropriate and virtuous pastime, in which the practitioner was trained in precision and concentration, and at the same time created fascinating objects which often served as (diplomatic) gifts or were part of a cabinet of curiosities. These objects fitted perfectly in the cabinets of curiosities; they combined craftsmanship and natural material with the growing knowledge of geometry. Craftsmen specializing in turning acted as teachers for the nobility, often staying at court. The turning was done mechanically with a lathe: a piece of ivory was fixed in the lathe, which could make the object move in two or three directions at the same time. The maker took a sharp object and held it to the rotating ivory. The different movements and directions of the mechanism allowed the maker to shape the object as desired. The craftsmanship of the maker, and in particular his or her geometrical and spatial insight, steady hand and precision, determined the complexity and sophistication of the final object. The mechanism of the lathe, which can be adjusted, makes these exceptional turned objects the first examples of ‘machine-generated art’.  

An engraving accompanying Doppelmayer's Historisches Nachricht,1730, describes a contrefait of similar form with the same internal circular hinged box and opening mechanism by Lorenz Zick (see K. Maurice, 1985, cat. no. 119). Another of very similar form, containing a portrait of Empress Maria Theresia, is in the Kremsmünster Monastery collection (see E. Philippovich, 1982, cat. no. 368). 

Cites no. 22NL307753/20


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