An Exhibition and a Book on the Goldsmith Johann Christian Neuber


1. Johann Christian Neuber (1735-1808)
Snuffbox in the Form of a Mineralogical Cabinet
Dresde, c. 1765-1770
108 hard stones - 6.7 x 4.8 x 3.5 cm
Private Collection
Photo : Galerie Kugel
Thomas Hennocque

28/9/12 - Exhibition and publication - Paris, Galerie Kugel - In 2010, the Kugel gallery celebrated the taste for the antique ; this year, it is highlighting an 18th century goldsmith and mineralogist : Johann Christian Neuber, who distinguished himself between 1762 and 1795 at the court in Dresden, becoming a jeweler to the Green Vault.
The exhibition, which in fact was presented at the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden, then at the Frick Collection in New York before coming to Paris, assembles fashionable accessories, notably snuffboxes decorated with porcelain miniatures from Meissen and especially décors, either figurative or geometric, made up of Saxony hard stones in infinite shades of color. Neuber developed a mosaic technique in cloisonné : his snuffbox in the form of a mineralogical cabinet made him famous, revealing in a decorative as well as scientific manner all sorts of numbered stone samples, which are then identified in a small booklet concealed inside the box (ill. 1) ; an example was recently on view at the Musée Cognac-Jay.

The exhibition accompanies a work devoted to Neuber, published by Monelle Hayot, admirable in every way for the editing quality, the beautiful photographs and its erudite contents. This is both a complete catalogue of the goldsmith’s documented oeuvre, established by Alexis Kugel who in fact directed the book, and an ensemble of essays. The first part describes the historical context under the reign of Frederick-Augustus III and the taste for semi-precious stones in 18th century Europe. The second part focuses on Johann Christian Neuber’s eventful life, finally dying in poverty after going bankrupt. Besides the catalogue raisonné, there is a chapter describing the art of snuffboxes, distinguishing the purely decorative ones from those forming a mineralogical cabinet ; another explains his rare monumental works : the console at Moritzbourg, unpublished until now, designed for the Fasanerie pavilion in the park of the château at Mortizbourg ; the Saxon Elector’s epergne, the ceremonial fireplace which was almost entirely destroyed in 1945 but, above all, the Repnine epergne which is now scattered.


2. Johann Christian Neuber (1735-1808)
"Teschen table", 1780-1789
Saxe Stones, Meissen Porcelain Medallions,
Gilded Bronze - 71 x 57.4 x 81 cm
Chateau de Breteuil
Photo : Galerie Kugel
Thomas Hennocque

3. Johann Christian Neuber (1735-1808)
"Teschen Table", detail
1780-1789
Saxe Stones, Meissen Porcelain Medallions,
Gilded Bronze - 71 x 57.4 x 81 cm
Chateau de Breteuil
Photo : Galerie Kugel
Thomas Hennocque


A significant part of the book studies Neuber’s masterpiece, the famous "Teschen table", also known as the "Europe table", the centerpiece of this exhibition (ill. 2 and 3). The peace treaty between Austria and Prussia signaling the end of the Bavarian war of succession was signed in Teschen on 13 May 1779, thanks to the mediation of Russia, represented by Prince Repnine, and of France, with its delegate Baron de Breteuil who received this amazing piece of furniture as a gift from the Saxon Elector in expression of thanks. The oval table top follows the principle of the mineralogical snuffboxes : 128 samples of hard and semi-precious stones appear in compartments, each numbered and accompanied by a booklet indicating their name and origin. The ensemble is rounded out by Meissen porcelain medallions.
The table resides today at the château de Breteuil ; but not for long, unfortunately, as a request for an export permit was filed on 1st June 2010. It was refused but if the State does not acquire this work before 1st December 2012, that is in two months’ time, it might just leave French soil, resulting in a major loss for national heritage. The Louvre seems to be the only potential acquirer of this extraordinary piece of furniture/jewelry, the only one in the world and an object of considerable historical and artistic value.

Le luxe, le goût, la science. Neuber, orfèvre minéralogiste à la cour de Saxe, from 13 September to 10 November 2012.
Galerie Kugel, 25 Quai Anatole France, 75007 Paris. Tel : +33 (0)1 42 60 86 23. Open from Monday to Saturday, 10:30 am to 7 pm.


Under the supervision of Alexis Kugel, Le luxe, le goût, la science... Neuber orfèvre minéralogiste à la cour de Saxe

, Editions Monelle Hayot, 423 p., 100€. ISBN : 9782903824808.


Version française


Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges and Didier Rykner, lundi 1er octobre 2012



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