Archive for the 'Antiques' Category

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:  www.rauantiques.com

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.

The Mystery Within

May 24th, 2013 | posted by Susan Lapene
The flicker cane is ready for danger at the flick of a wrist.

The flicker cane is ready for danger at the flick of a wrist.

What provocative objects can be hidden inside a cane? Man and his ingenuity have managed to come up with thousands and thousands of tools, personal necessities, and weapons to defend themselves…all tucked neatly away inside an unassuming cane.

At first glance, the flicker cane looks like a fine, old walking stick. A polished, knotty wood shaft culminates in a bird-shaped handle, giving the cane a sturdy, but handsome look. With the flick of a wrist, the cane reveals

Two-sword cane conceals a pair of swords.

Two-sword cane conceals a pair of swords.

its hidden purpose: a blade darts out of the top of the handle, sharp, and ready to be used as a weapon. And just as quickly as you can snap the very base of the cane onto the ground, the blade disappears without a trace.

Hidden within this demure and substantial cane are not one, but two long, narrow blades. The two-sworded cane, or “sword stick” as it is often called, became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries as a bold accessory. A clever disguise, these canes have roots in ancient Rome and Japan, where similar style weapon canes were carried mainly for ceremonial purposes.

La Diabolique cane hides spikes in the shaft.

La Diabolique cane hides spikes in the shaft.

La Diabolique is a captivating cane, with an equally intriguing history. Known as a notorious weapon used against French authorities by rioters in the famous 19th century street riots, La Diabolique quickly transforms from a simple walking stick to a harmful weapon. With the twist of the handle, spikes jut out of the shaft allowing the owner to inflict brutal wounds upon opponents.  It is no wonder these canes are so valued by collectors!

We have had the opportunity to acquire hundreds of interesting canes over our 101-year history, and yet, each new walking stick we acquire is even more fascinating than the next! Please visit our website to see the range of these beautiful collector’s items. Maybe you will be enticed to start your own collection!

The Write Stuff: Beautiful Antiques That Celebrate The Art of Writing

May 16th, 2013 | posted by Deborah Choate
Burma Ruby and Diamond Fountain Pen

Burma Ruby and Diamond Fountain Pen

It is easy to forget the pleasure of the quickly disappearing art of writing.  Away from the distractions of technology, and more capable of infusing your personality and character into your work than

Paul Storr George III Silver Inkstand

Paul Storr George III Silver Inkstand

the modern alternative, hand writing anything is epically more satisfying.  I wanted to share with you some of my favorite pieces that I hope will inspire you to once again return to the pen.

Of course, we must start with this stunning triumph of precision and unbridled elegance, a Burma ruby and diamond encrusted fountain pen. More than 150.00 carats of invisibly set Burma rubies and 15.00 carats of diamonds embellish this one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Putting ink to paper from this piece is to deposit a perfect line from a nib and body crafted of platinum and 18K gold.

On a more traditional, but no less elegant note, we have this George III Silver Inkstand by the preeminent silversmith Paul Storr. Although the three cut glass jars set upon an elevated pen tray once served as an inkwell, quill stand and pounce pot, these versatile items are still useful for modern necessities, whether in the home on a vanity or on your office desk. This set also boasts the rare inclusion of a chamber stick and snuffer.

If doré bronze is more to your taste, however, than you may appreciate this opulent turn-of-the-century inkwell.  This fine antique desk accessory retains its original clear glass insert and its top is set with a large malachite cabochon.  The vivid green of this mineral, which was prized by the most elegant homes of the time, provides a wonderful contrast to the doré bronze body.

Important French Bureau a Cylindre and Fauteuil de Bureau

Important French Bureau a Cylindre and Fauteuil de Bureau

Malachite Cabochon Inkwell

Malachite Cabochon Inkwell

If there is one piece certain to invite you to sit down and write a while, it is this absolutely stunning French Restoration-era roll-top desk.  The finest ormolu fixtures swathe rich Cuban mahogany in this matching pair of desk and swivel chair; these exquisite details elevate this piece from merely functional to a work of art.  Just as with the ormolu adornments, every aspect of the desk itself is crafted with the utmost care.  In fact, the interior drawers and compartments are crafted of quarter-sawn oak, which is harvested from the inner most sections of the oak log. This intensive and costly process produces sections of wood that resist warping and help ensure that this desk will maintain its beauty for generations to come.  The desk is appointed with a fitted interior of compartments, lockable drawers and a retractable red leather lined writing surface. For added security, the lower right compartment contains a hidden, lockable coffer to store precious valuables.

Any of these pieces, alone or paired with the others, would serve as a welcome step back from the ever-extending reach of technology, if only for a moment. Click here to view more of our writing-related antiques and reminisce about the lost art of writing.

Beauty Set In Stone: The Art of Pietre Dure

May 1st, 2013 | posted by Bill Rau
Pietre dure was used to adorn important objets d'art, such as these magnificent plinths.

Pietre dure was used to adorn important objets d’art, such as these magnificent plinths.

Pietre dure is one of the oldest decorative arts. With a meticulous eye and steady hand, a master of this hardstone inlay technique can literally “paint” a picture in stone.

This incredible pietre dure plaque is comprised of numerous hardstones intricately inlaid to create a "painting of stone."

This incredible pietre dure plaque is comprised of numerous hardstones intricately inlaid to create a “painting of stone.”

The art form developed in ancient Rome in the 4th century where the technique was known as opus sectile (“carved and cut work”). Much like mosaic, this new process utilized larger sections of materials such as marble and glass inlaid into floors and walls to compose an image or decorative pattern. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the technique was brought to Byzantium, where it was used to grace the interiors of churches. It wasn’t until the Italian Renaissance that we find the first mentions of pietre dure.

In 1588, Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici established in Florence the Grand Ducal Workshop Galleria di’Lavori, known today as the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (“Workshop of Semi-Precious Stones”). The Medici family is historically renowned for their support and influence upon the arts, and this workshop specialized specifically in the perfection of pietre dure, elevating it into the most important of the Florentine art forms. Pietre dure soon became a favorite of monarchs around the world, and everyone from France’s Louis XIV to the Hapsburgs in Prague sought out these splendid creations to craft some of the most exquisite objets d’art the world has ever known.

Precision is key when creating pietre dure. The artisan first selects only the finest specimens of marble, semi-precious and, in some cases, precious stones, to compose his work. Since these elements literally come in every color of the rainbow, the creative possibilities are truly endless. Once the artist has created his design on paper, the individual elements of the image must be delicately cut from the materials to exact proportions, as each must fit together perfectly, much like the pieces of a puzzle, to compose the final work of art. Upon examination of this magnificentFlorentine Pietre Dure plaque of a gentleman serenading a young woman, the level of care and attention afforded to its creation is awe-inspiring. Vivid blues, reds and greens from various marbles and lapis lazuli are used throughout to create a dynamic scene. Everything from hair and eyes, to clothing and mandolin strings are cut to exact size from individual stones and then painstakingly inlaid one into the other. It is no wonder that it could take months, even years, to complete a single work of pietre dure depending on its size and complexity.

From large genre scenes to wonderful decorative objects such as these Pietre Dure Plinths, works displaying this amazing artistic technique continue to attract the attention of collectors throughout the world.

To view M.S. Rau Antiques’ selection of pietre dure, click here.

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