Thursday, May 14, 2015

Keeping Time with an 18th c. Jewel Cabinet

Thursday, May 14, 2015
Isabella reporting,

We've shared some of the fantastic work by James Cox (c. 1723-1800), a jeweler, goldsmith, watchmaker, and all-around showman-entrepreneur. The silver swan and these golden elephants are representative of the workmanship from his London shop (in the early 1770s, he claimed he had nearly 1,000 craftsmen working for him), and samples of what he displayed to the wide-eyed paying public in his Spring Gardens museum. Most of his work was destined to become luxurious gifts for foreign rulers, who were amused by the clockwork mechanisms of Western "toys."

This cabinet is made of agate, mounted in gilded copper and brass, with painted enamel plaques. The plaques feature fashionably dressed ladies personifying Winter and Summer, part of the Four Seasons series by British painter Robert Pyle, with additional panels based on works by François Boucher and Jean-Antoine Watteau. On the top of the cabinet is a removable watch, and in addition to the drawers in the front, a secret drawer opens in the back with a spring-loaded jeweled button.

But as lavish as the cabinet appears, there's a chance that it's only a fragment of a much more elaborate piece. On the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which owns the cabinet, curator Clare Vincent speculates that this might have been part of a larger cabinet described in Cox's A Descriptive Inventory of the Several Exquisite and Magnificent Pieces of Mechanism and Jewellery, published in 1773 and 1774:

"If so, the Museum's miniature cabinet has lost the revolving sphere on its top described in the inventory, and it has been parted from a stand consisting of a 'gilt rock, in front of which is a cascade and running stream of artificial water, where swans are seen swimming in contrary directions; at the corners of the rocks are Dragons with extended wings.' This extravagant assemblage was in turn displayed on a crimson velvet pedestal with a silver-mounted glass cover keep out the dust."

And I was impressed by the cabinet as it stands today!

Above: Jewel Cabinet with Watch, watch signed by James Cox, c. 1766. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photographs © 2011 by Susan Holloway Scott


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