Archive for June, 2013

The King’s Game

June 28th, 2013 | posted by Rebekah Morrison


It’s frightening to think that chess may be a dying game. With today’s technology, little ones are growing up with computers and smartphones readily at hand so this dismal thought may be true to some extent. Chess clubs are a great place for the younger generation to learn how to play chess; however, playing with as many people as possible to learn new strategies is really a key piece to becoming a master.

The game of chess is not merely a game. It can teach the player many lessons that are useful in the course of life. In the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, chess was a part of noble culture, it was used to teach war strategy and was dubbed the “King’s Game”. Strategy, as well as foresight and caution, are just a few things to be learned while engaging in a game of chess. We’ve recently acquired three beautiful and enchanting chess sets, each one with their own mysterious story to tell.

Jaques of London Chess Set Owned by Joaquin Amaro

Jaques of London Chess Set Owned by Joaquin Amaro


Every part of this one-of-a-kind chess set by Jaques of London is truly outstanding. Once owned by and customized for Mexican General Joaquin Amaro Dominguez, this set is comprised of African ivory pieces carved in the universally-recognized Staunton design, a classically-styled inlaid rosewood table and matching timer. This extraordinary set includes some very interesting attributes. Jaques created four extra knights all modeled after the general’s horse and, the most surprising part, is he ensured the opponent’s side of the timer ran faster than his, giving the general quite the tactical advantage.


Chinese Ivory Chess Set



The intricate carving of this set will astound you. These exceptional pieces, each hand-carved of pure and stained ivory, take the form of highly recognizable Chinese figures. Emperors and empresses serve as the kings and queens, court ministers act as bishops, warrior knights are carved as Mulan, rooks are styled as pagodas, and the eight immortals of Chinese mythology, each seated upon his or her sacred animal, serve as pawns.


Anglo Indian Miniature Chess Table

Anglo Indian Miniature Chess Table




This next set is monumental even though its miniature in size. Carved with tortoiseshell and horn, produced in the region of Vizagapatam in the second quarter of the 19th century, this lovely veneered table has a petal-shaped outline with spandrels applied with pierced scrolling. The pierced foliage has engraved cartouches and the elaborate tabletop is supported on a baluster shaft with quadripartite base and lion paw feet.  The table includes a miniature ivory chess set and a sandalwood box with a sliding lid.

All of these sets are a delight to see in person especially to feel the weight of the larger pieces in your hand. If you are unable to make it into our gallery you can always take a closer look on our website:

Paintings in Stone: The Art of Pietre Dure

June 21st, 2013 | posted by Liz Beirise
Circa 1860 Pietre Dure figural plaque.

Circa 1860 Pietre Dure figural plaque.

A jeweler’s precision and an artist’s eye make pietre dure one of the most fascinating techniques in decorative arts. Even more remarkable is that the process has remained mostly unchanged throughout the centuries. Artisans from the 16th century and those from 20th century have engaged in this lengthy and imaginative sequence, which results in intricate “paintings in stone” as pietre dure pieces are often known.

The task of creating a pietre dure piece begins like most artworks: sketching. A detailed sketch is made of the design, which is then rendered in watercolor to flesh out the color and shading. In the 16th century, the original sketch and painting might be commissioned by a separate artist, which would then be handed off to artisans to begin the painstaking process of selecting and cutting the stones. The process of selecting the best hardstones for a piece could take months, as the emphasis on perfect color and pattern was crucial to the success of the image.

Thin slices of stone were then cut to match the sketched sections. This allowed for the eventual inlay, which gives pietre dure the appearance of a painting from a distance. The cut pieces were quite fragile and only the most skilled of craftsman could achieve the perfect thin slice without shattering or cracking the stone. When assembled, the myriad sections would resemble puzzle pieces, each perfectly fitted to another.

We have three pietre dure pieces in the gallery right now that are stunning examples of the art form. This diminutive pietre dure figural plaque is an exceptional and rare work that quaintly captures the image of a

Important Pietre Dure casket.

Important Pietre Dure casket.

cavalier. Beautifully constructed in a variety of marbles and stones, this framed piece is fascinating both as an historical piece and a work of art.

This rare and extraordinary pietre dure casket exemplifies the very best of the best in both 17th-century and 19th-century workmanship. With original period Florentine pietre dure plaques, the 17th-century pastoral scenes and plaques of semi-precious stones are mounted into this exceptional 19th-century ebonized casket with intricately hand-engraved doré bronze mounts. Without question, the materials used in this casket are the greatest that money could buy. The plaques in particular were likely fashioned at the Grand Ducal Workshops of Florence.

Superb Russian Malachite and Pietre Dure plinths

Superb Russian Malachite and Pietre Dure plinths

True works of art of the Restauration period, these plinths each feature a matching pietre dure mosaic crafted of the finest stones, all chosen to create a sense of depth and dimensionality in the final work. Depicting an onyx vase with tulips, roses, daffodils, magnolia and other flowers, these panels are among the finest examples of this ancient art we have seen. The pietre dure is complemented by malachite panels of the highest quality, exhibiting exceptional depth through its extraordinary cellular structure. Malachite is one of Russia’s most prestigious stones, and its presence in these plinths indicates commission and ownership by an individual of considerable status. Mounted in an excellent stepped ormolu base, these plinths originally served as bases for vases or candelabra.

Beautiful and historically important, pietre dure pieces are true gems of the decorative arts. If you would like to see more images of M.S. Rau’s collection, click here to visit our website.

First Steps To Greatness: An Early Rubens Masterpiece

June 14th, 2013 | posted by Bill Rau
This portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius by Peter Paul Rubens dates to his days as a student in Antwerp. It is a rare glimpse into the artist's early work, circa 1600.

This portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius by Peter Paul Rubens dates to his days as a student in Antwerp. It is a rare glimpse into the artist’s early work, circa 1600.

Emotional. Mesmerizing. Profound.

All of these words and more have been used over the centuries to describe the work of Baroque master Peter Paul Rubens. We’re all familiar with the spiritually charged, vibrant canvases that grace the collections of major museums throughout the world. Too seldom do art lovers get the chance to see a legendary artist’s early works–the true foundations of their genius. This painting, entitled The Emperor Marcus Aurelius provides this intriguing insight into the works of the Baroque master.

As was typical of the time, students in his extensive studio did the majority of Rubens’ paintings, with the finishing touches done by the artist himself. There are few paintings attributed 100% to Rubens, with only 10 known works done by Rubens’ own hand from his days as a student in Antwerp. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius is one of them.

This astonishing oil on panel was executed in the late 1590s during his studies with the distinguished Antwerp artist Otto van Veen, who had himself completed a series of the Roman Emperors. Rubens was intrigued by all things Roman, so it is not surprising then, that Rubens, in his attempts to learn his teacher’s techniques, would undertake the same series as his teacher. This particular portrait of the innovative emperor displays the precision and treatment of anatomy synonymous with Rubens’ entire oeuvre.

In 1600, Rubens’ pivotal trip to Italy would change the course of this painting. His exposure to artists including Titan and Tintoretto can be seen throughout his works from this point forward. His command of chiaroscuro, texture and expression evolve, forever establishing a uniquely “Rubens” feel to his paintings.

Adding to the importance of this fascinating portrait is a letter of authenticity by Professor Emeritus Julius Held of Columbia University, New York.

Rubens’ paintings are regarded amongst fine art scholars to be the greatest of the era. Works completed by his hand alone command the highest attention, not only because of their extreme rarity on the market, but because of the priceless historical understanding they offer into the mind of one of the greatest artists to have ever lived.