11239 A MAGNIFICENT WALNUT PARQUETRY AND GILTWOOD ROCOCO BOMBE BUREAU, PROBABLY FROM THE COLLECTION OF QUEEN JULIANA MARIA OF DENMARK (1729-1796) Danish Or German. Mid Eighteenth Century. Measurements: Width: 50″ (127 cm) Height closed: 46″ (117 cm) Height Open: 66 1/8″ (168 cm) Depth Closed: 28 3/4″ (73 cm) Depth Open: 33″(84 cm);
Of walnut, giltwood and gilt brass. The shaped flap with concealed handle to the lowest part. The flap opens in an upward direction. Fitted with four long drawers each with original gilt brass handles and escutcheons. Below the drawers is a retractable slide centered by a giltwood shell motif. The bottom half of undulating asymmetric form, is fitted with three shaped drawers mounted with original gilt brass rococo handles. The sides of paneled bombe form. The whole raised upon inturned giltwood rococo feet united by a carved apron. The sides with carved cartouches. Very old restoration to carving in places. A significant amount of original gilding to feet and apron present; some regilding.
Label inside drawer reads ‘Hugh Hole’ with coat of arms and with handwritten inscription:
Photographs, MSS, Letters relating to SHF Hole.
Indistinct words written in blue chalk.
Hugh Hole, Esq., Caunton Manor, Nottinghamshire
Thence by descent to Sir Stephen Tallents and the Tallents family, Glendon, Wimborne Minster, Dorset.
This remarkable rococo period bureau, with its parquetry exterior and profuse giltwood enrichment to the apron and feet, includes an important and tantalizing clue as to its origin. Its beautifully crafted key bow is set with the letters JM and a royal crown, likely representing Queen Juliana Maria of Denmark (1729-1796).1 Born Princess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, the queen was the second wife of King Frederick V of Denmark and Norway (1723-1766), whose first wife, Princess Louise of Great Britain, died in 1751. Juliana was the stepmother to their five children and gave birth to the Hereditary Prince Frederick V.
Juliana Maria was married to Frederick only 6 months after Louise’s death in the hopes of curbing the king’s profligate disposition, and undoubtedly for her incredibly important political connections, being first cousin of Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia and sister-in-law of King Frederick (the Great) II of Prussia. The marriage was generally considered tastelessly soon and Juliana was never able to live up to the popularity of her predecessor. She was shy and reserved by nature, and “while Frederick V was still alive she does not seem to have interfered actively in politics.”2 Frederick himself was an ineffectual ruler and depended heavily on his advisors. Nevertheless, his reign was marked by peace, prosperity and a flourishing of the arts and sciences. Juliana herself avidly supported the newly established Royal Porcelain Factory. After his death in 1766 Juliana became politically influential through her participation in a coup against her step-son and daughter-in-law that resulted in her own son being placed on the throne. Although he was formally in charge of government, the real power lay with Juliana and the de facto prime minister Ove Høegh-Guldberg. After 12 years her involvement ended when another step-son, Crown Prince Frederik (VI), took power in a coup in 1784. She lived the rest of her days at court unobtrusively until her death in 1796.
The present bureau is much in keeping with the keynote taste of the Danish court in the earlier years of Juliana Maria’s reign, having the aforementioned typical giltwood feet and apron (an uncommon feature on furniture outside Danish territories), walnut parquetry and curvaceous movement.
The astonishing lines of the corpus of the bureau are here testing the skill and artistry of the cabinetmaker to the limits. Its shape resembles a giant shell form whose highly unorthodox reverse rising fall gives the impression of an opening mollusk. Aside from its remarkable exterior, even the drawer fronts and linings are of a pronounced undulating asymmetric form (figure 1).
A possible candidate was suggested as the maker of this masterpiece by Dr. Jørgen Hein, Senior Curator at the Royal Danish Collections, who, after reviewing images, put forward the idea that may be “[Christian Friedrich] Lehmann at his very best.”
A German cabinetmaker from the region around Berlin, Lehmann’s work for the Danish court began in 1755. His pieces are characterized by the same high degree of curvaceousness as the present bureau; at least two of his works for Denmark are considered as some of the peaks of technical and artistic achievements in all European furniture, namely the large music cabinet made for Christianborg Palace circa 1757, now at Rosenborg Castle (figure 2) and ‘the small bureau,’ circa 1755, made for Frederik V at Fredensborg Palace, also at Rosenborg (figure 3). For the former piece, the same idea of the drawers’ interior undulating shaping occurs (figure 4) as is found in the present bureau. While both aforementioned Lehmann cabinets employ copious use of gilded bronze for its ornament, a further pair of heavily shaped writing commodes by Lehmann employ giltwood aprons and feet (figure 5).
Other cabinetmakers who supplied the Danish court at this time, working in a rococo style and following the same mix of ingredients found on the present bureau (although somewhat more conservative) include Mathias Ortmann and Johann Köster of Altona.
Ortmann, son of a Swedish ébéniste, lived in Copenhagen and counted members of the Danish royal family among his clients. After his father’s death in 1723, Mathias succeeded to the head of the family business, but before that he toured France as an apprentice, where he was exposed to French furniture under the reign of Louis XV. The characteristics of his furniture of pronounced bombé form, invariably include elaborately carved aprons and feet. Two examples of commodes by Ortmann embodying these characteristics in the “Rosen” antechamber of Rosenborg Palace (figure 6) and the collection of the Kunstindustrimuseet (figure 7).
A further candidate for the maker of the bureau could be the “exceptionally skilled carpenter”3 Johann Köster of Altona. This now westerly urban borough of Hamburg was an important Danish-administered city in the 18th century. The style and design ingredients of Köster’s work are in line with Ortmann’s oeuvre, however, his pieces are often more elaborate, “notable for their finely carved and gilt decorations,”4 and it may be that he was more capable of the technical mastery required to create the present bureau. A bombé commode by Köster circa 1760 (Museum für Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte der Hansestadt Lübeck) is illustrated in figure 8, while the lower section of a bombé bureau cabinet (location?) is seen in figure 9. An interesting feature of his work, apparently unique to Köster, is the deployment of prominent rococo giltwood carved elements that adorn the sides (figure 10), this feature being a distinctive aspect of the present bureau.
By 1767 his firm had become so successful that he was able to establish a so-called “Spiegel und Mobilien Handlung,” a gallery and retail space where he offered mirrors, commodes, cabinets, etc. for sale,5 which had been made for inventory rather than a specific client. Köster understood “that the manufactory of modern luxurious furnishings did not only require an artistically ambitions mindset, but an entirely new form of business organization, which was tailored to the changing requirements of his privileged clientele.”6 He was patronized by the highest level of customer; it is a matter of record that among many aristocratic Danish clients, including the Graf von Ranzau and the Baron von Brokdorf, Drost von der Wensen, among others, he also provided furniture for the crown, delivering pieces to Schloß Schackborg, Glücksburg, Augustenborg and Gottorg. The firm had a far-reaching trade, at home in the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway, as well as abroad, especially amongst the Hanoverian and the Mecklenburg nobility, and the archduchy of Schleswig and Holstein. It is also known that residents of Hamburg would frequently give preference to the works of Köster over their own local firms.
It is interesting to note that at some point early in the bureau’s history the flap was changed to hinge from the lower front, falling open towards the user, and its pull-out slide screwed shut. Remedial work was recently carried out to revert the piece to its original direction with the flap opening upwards, following witness marks of the original layout and hinging at the top of the bureau. The original slide, as well as its original loper runners and original trapezoidal brass loper pulls were reverted to their original purpose as guides for the slide. The lopers were likely added to rest the flap on (in its altered state as a fall), but may have employed the original channels for the support guides of the retractable slide. The drop handles that faced the lopers are retained and are are of certain 18th century manufacture, further confirming that the change to the operation of the flap occurred very early in the bureau’s history.
Another bureau of similar date, previously in an important Bruges collection, also displayed the same unusual feature of an upward opening flap (figure 11). Manufacture by a firm like Köster’s, which was the only one known in the area to have produced pieces for sale at its large gallery rather than on specific commission, may explain the flap change close to the date of manufacture, where a buyer liked the piece but wanted a different way of opening it.
- Experts consulted: Jørgen Hein, Danish State Collections; Ronny Anderson, Danish National Archives and Herald
- Orr, Clarissa C. Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 354.
- Kratz, Annette-Isabell. Altonaer Möbel Des Rokoko Und Klassizismus: Tischlerhandwerk Und “mobilienfabrikation” Im 18. Und 19. Jahrhundert. Hamburg: E.J. Kratz, 1988. 28.
- Ibid., 29.