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From Myth to Masterpiece: Viennese Rock Crystal

January 31st, 2012 | posted by Bill Rau

Australian aborigines called it the “stone of light” and the Celts believed its prismatic properties linked it to the sun. Even the fortuneteller’s rudimentary crystal ball was originally crafted of the mysteriously alluring mineral we refer to today as rock crystal.

Rock crystal, or clear quartz, has been revered by nearly every ancient culture in history. It’s clear, ice-like appearance, enhanced by light refracting fissures gave the mineral an air of mystique that carried on well into the Renaissance. The mineral’s innate beauty piqued the interest of 14th-century European royals and aristocrats and they began amassing stunning collections that largely included rock crystal objets d’art in rooms known as “curiosity cabinets.” Even today, many royal collections throughout the world contain pieces crafted of rock crystal.

The use of rock crystal in the creation of precious objects required highly skilled artisans that were proficient in a multitude of disciplines, including gem cutter, jeweler, goldsmith, and enamelist. No other group of craftsmen excelled in this art better than the Viennese. Their ability to marry so many varied techniques, with the utmost level of perfection and beauty, led to the creation of the most exquisite objects of virtu ever made.


This resplendent Viennese charger is inset with nine intricately engraved panels of rock crystal

This brilliant Rock Crystal Charger of Chateau de Chenonceau is believed to have been commissioned by the daughter of Scottish businessman Daniel Wilson, who purchased the Chateau de Chenonceaux for her in 1864. Created by a Viennese craftsman of obviously tremendous skill, a precise rendering of the chateau is carved into the central panel of rock crystal, while the surrounding insets are etched with an intricate network of Neoclassical scrolls. The silver and silver gilt frame of the charger boasts relief figures adorned with vivid enamel, pearls, rubies and emeralds. In terms of history and craftsmanship, this is arguably the finest example of Viennese rock crystal on the market.

A breathtaking rendering of the Chateau Chenonceau at the center of the charger

A single block of rock crystal was used to create this fanciful Rock Crystal and Enamel Vessel, in the form of a double-headed bird. From the exquisite carving to the intricacies of the silver gilt enameling, it would be easy to envision this elegant masterpiece in a most prestigious collection.

The fanciful form of this Viennese rock crystal vessel is similar to prized specimens currently held by museums.

M.S. Rau Antiques is incredibly fortunate to offer these and several other Viennese rock crystal wonders for sale. Rarely does such a large number of these desirable objets d’art become available for acquisition, as most can only be found in the most prestigious museum collections. Immersed in legend, sought by royalty and matchless in beauty, the reason why these treasures continue to lure collectors throughout the world is crystal clear.

To view M.S. Rau Antiques entire collection of rock crystal treasures, click here.

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