Archive for July, 2011

Out of this World!

July 19th, 2011 | posted by Bill Rau

A monumental and important telescope by Parisian optician Robert-Aglae Cauchoix

When was the last time you went outside on a clear night for the sole purpose of looking at the night sky?  I sometimes wonder about the level of amazement that must have gone through the minds of early man, observing comets, eclipses and moon phases with a surreal combination of awe and trepidation. These first “astronomers” used what they observed with the naked eye to explain everything from the changing seasons to their religious beliefs. But it wasn’t until the invention of the telescope that these observations made the giant leap from mere assumption to revolutionary truth.

The first mention of an operating telescope occurred in 1608. Hans Lippershey, a lens maker from the Netherlands, discovered that if you take two lenses, spaced them apart and look through them, the object viewed got bigger. A mere four months later, Galileo Galilei took the next steps to improving and perfecting models based on Lippershey’s discovery. Suddenly, it was possible to see the craters of the moon and spots on the sun. Unfortunately, Galileo spent much of his career at odds with the Church for some of his discoveries, spending the last decade of his life under house arrest. But the ball had already been set into motion, and other opticians and scientists for years to come jumped at the chance to take the telescope to new heights.

One such man was Parisian optician Robert-Aglae Cauchoix, who created this Monumental Telescope. Creator of three of the largest telescopes of his day, it is possible that this magnificent masterpiece was the telescope made for the famed Paris Observatory. Crafted of brass, this refracting telescope measures over seven feet in length and is mounted upon a complex “catapult” base that gives it an incredible range of motion. It even comes with its original case of immense interchangeable lenses that measure over a half-foot in diameter!

This telescope would be perfect to view some fantastic astronomical events occurring within the next several weeks:

• July 28–29 is the Southern Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower, which can produce about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. The showers usually peak on July 28 and 29, but some meteors can also be seen from July 18–August 18.

• Neptune will be at opposition on August 11. The blue planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun, which is the best time to view Neptune.

• From August 12–13, the grand Perseids Meteor Shower is known for producing up to 60 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower’s peak usually occurs on August 13 & 14, but you may be able to see some meteors any time from July 23 – August 22.

I hope you have the chance to see these most magnificent of nature’s spectacles for yourself…with the right antique telescope, of course!

To view M.S. Rau Antiques selection of Medical and Scientific Instruments, click here.

Judgement Day

July 18th, 2011 | posted by Jim Cottrell

"Waiting for the Editor" by Norman Rockwell (44" x 42")

Waiting for the Editor” is a very important painting by Rockwell due to its exceptional quality and unusually large size. This piece is about twice that of most of the artist’s work. Norman Rockwell knew full well he would be judged against his peers in the future so he made sure that this painting and its story represented his finest work.

Norman Rockwell is well known for story telling in his pictures. “Waiting for the Editor” tells a brilliant story through this oil-on-canvas painting. At first glance the viewer sees two men – one young, one old – each with his portfolio seemingly waiting for the same art editor. Their portfolios contain their best work ready to be judged: the new guard versus tried and true ideals.

Take a closer look, however, and you will find that the young man is actually a self-portrait of a young Norman Rockwell and the other older gentleman is J.C. Leyendecker who designed the covers of the Saturday Evening Post prior to Rockwell.  Shadowed by Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” in the background,  the artist imagines himself being judged along with Leyendecker who virtually invented the idea of modern magazine cover design.  History as shown that both men, ultimately, made major contributions to the art of a very popular magazine – the Saturday Evening Post.  Please call me if you would like to learn more about this fantastic painting.

The Right Snuff: Antique Snuffboxes

July 5th, 2011 | posted by Bill Rau

Swiss Enamel and Gold Snuff Box

The “taking of snuff” was a very social activity among Europe’s upper class, beginning in the early 16th century. It’s hard to believe a habit that caused frequent, and at times messy, sneezing fits would become so en vogue, but it did. And, with such widespread usage by seemingly every person of importance in the 16th century, the demand for a fashionable yet functional way to carry one’s snuff inspired the greatest jewelers, enamelers, goldsmiths and silversmiths of the time to create what we know today as the snuffbox.

It is said that Queens Anne and Charlotte enjoyed snuff so much, that nearly every member of their courts partook in the habit. Catherine de’ Medici used snuff to treat her son’s persistent migraines, and many credit her belief in its therapeutic properties with the popularization of snuff among nobility.

The most extravagant boxes were considered a necessity for well-healed ladies and gentlemen, and were often exchanged as gifts. The taking of snuff was regarded as a social activity, where each person in a group would present their particular snuff blend to share and compare amongst themselves. These elegant boxes could be made of anything-from porcelain and tortoiseshell, to multi-colored gold. This Swiss Tri-Colored Gold Snuffbox is a perfect example of the latter, using chased and engraved yellow, green and rose gold to create a truly beautiful objet d’art.  The French became known for some of the most intricate snuffboxes, which this Gold and Enamel Snuffbox would be a prime specimen. The lid features a highly detailed, hand-painted enamel of a young couple in love, with magnificent royal blue guilloché enamel and gold ornaments accentuating the border and sides.

The use of snuff has been on a steady rise in recent years. So, understandably, the desirability of these exceptional boxes has increased to match. The finest examples demand great attention on the market, such as the German snuffbox that sold at Christie’s London for an astonishing $1.3 million dollars in 2003. Even if snuff is not your style, it’s impossible to turn your nose up at these splendid, miniature works of art.

To see M.S. Rau Antiques’ collection of rare and important snuffboxes, click here