9947

MAGNIFICENT ROCOCO POLYCHROME, GILTWOOD TRAÎNEAU, RETAINING ITS ORIGINAL DECORATION

Possibly Dutch. 1750.

Measurements

Height: 48" (121.9 cm )
Width: 82" (208.3 cm)
Depth: 40" (101.6 cm)

Research

Of gilded and painted oak. Formed as a rearing dragon, the rear section incorporating a single seat, which opens to reveal a compartment, and footwell, and carved with a complex system of rococo ornament to the reverse. The whole retaining most of its original gilding and carving. The pair of runners, fitted with original decorative ironwork, is connected to the main body of the ‘dragon’ by means of the foliate carved uprights and iron s-form suspensions. The runners are spanned to the rear by the original sheet-iron-clad driver’s standing board, which, in turn, incorporates the original steering mechanism. Original untouched condition, minor restorations.

Provenance:
By repute, the Polish Royal family.
Collection of Rose Cumming, New York.

This traîneau is an outstanding example of the type of object created as a means of winter sporting for the pleasure of the European royalty and aristocracy in the 17th and 18th century. Far from having a purely utilitarian purpose, these fabulous vehicles were used throughout Europe in parades and races. “Parade sleighs came into fashion in the Renaissance and remained in vogue until the French Revolution.”1 No expense was spared in the construction of sleighs, which were executed by leading court artists and sculptors, and no detail was overlooked, as even the upholstery and blankets were lavishly decorated and the horses were outfitted with silver, feathers, and jewels.2 All parts were most tastefully coordinated, ‘a huge cost and effort is expended when the horses, harnesses, and sleighs and all other necessary aspects are presented in the most elaborate and magnificent manner, one element corresponding to the other and all forming a perfect whole…”3

Traîneaux were in use at the French court—Marie Antoinette commissioned several for her sleighing parties—and they were driven on the grounds, and even on the frozen Grand Canal of Versailles. They were also popular amongst the nobility in Austria, Germany, Russia, Poland and Holland. Many of them took the form of fantastic creatures such as  hippocampi, and chimeras, while others were “… decorated with all kinds of wild animals such as bears, tigers, lions, stags or birds, such as herons, pelicans, swans, eagles and ostriches, either stuffed or carved.”4

Figure 1 shows a drawing, circa 1729, of a winter masquerade parade of sleighs in the duchy of Württemberg, while another cavalcade of revelers is depicted in a painting by Claude Deruet, a baroque painter from Nancy, France, entitled “L’Eau” (1640) (figure 2) about which Jean de La Fontaine said in 1663: “One sees here fireworks, racing rings, carousel, entertainment, sleds and other similar niceties. If you ask me what all this means, I would say that I do not know anything of it.”5

Julius von Rohr pointed out in his Ceremoniel Wissenschaft des Grossen Herrn of 1733 that these grand processions played an important part in court ceremonial and were designed as elaborate displays for the populace to emphasize the ruler’s superiority, “for wonder instills fear and respect which are the basis for submission and obedience.”6

For this reason the displays were tightly structured and organized. Participation was restricted to only the highest ranks and the position within the train of different nobles was carefully arranged. The processions, often themed, resembled triumphal trains in honor of the rulers and were accompanied by drums and trumpets and other instruments and “for best effect the sleigh processions were staged preferably at night illuminated by torches.”7 These would be carried by the townsfolk and the viewers thereby became part of the spectacle.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.