Swedish National Museum acquired gold box with portrait of Gustavus III

The National Museum has acquired a unique jeweled gold box with an enamel miniature of King Gustavus III of Sweden. The portrait was made by court enameller Johan Georg Henrichsen and is one of very few surviving jeweled presentation portrait boxes from the Swedish monarch.

Jewel-encrusted portraits of the monarch were the most prestigious token of appreciation. The tradition developed at the French court in the 17th century and soon became a model for other European royal houses of the time. These portraits might take the form of a pendant or be mounted in a jewelled setting on the lid of a gold box. Queen Kristina was the first Swedish monarch to adopt this French fashion, which then flourished in the 18th century. Gustav III frequently handed out gold boxes as a sign of royal favour. Contemporary historical sources show that the king took a great personal interest in the design and gave detailed instructions. Sometimes the decoration consisted of his monogram in diamonds, and in other cases his portrait was framed with jewels.

Various specialist craftsmen collaborated to create the boxes. A silversmith would first produce the basic gold box, which would then be decorated by an engraver and adorned with gemstones by a jeweller. A miniaturist then added the portrait, while the case was produced by another specialist, often a bookbinder.

The gold box itself was an import. It was made in Hanau, Germany, by a master silversmith. It is oval and decorated on all sides by engine-turned guilloché waves and circles. The smith used two different colors of gold to give the patterns contrast and added a chased acanthus border to the edges. The edges were also chased with four cartouches of urns below scrolls.

Once the box arrived in Stockholm, Henrichsen added the king’s portrait in enamel based on a portrait by Lorens Pasch the Younger. A court jeweler added an oval border of diamonds around the portrait and a floral vine of diamonds to the base of the lid underneath the portrait.

Gustavus III presented it to John Mackenzie, 4th Lord MacLeod, upon his retirement from the Swedish Army in 1778. Mackenzie and his father had been avid supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Jacobite rising of 1745. He was captured after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and charged with high treason. After two years, he agreed to give up all properties and rights to his ancestral Earldom in exchange for a pardon. He left Scotland and in 1750 took a commission in Swedish Pomerania as a mercenary. He served the Swedish crown with distinction for 27 years, ending his career as a lieutenant general and receiving the chivalric Order of the Sword of Sweden.

In 1778 he received a full amnesty and his properties were restored to him. He retired from service in Sweden to return to Britain, and the king gave him the precious gold box as a token of thanks.

It remained in the family for almost 200 years. The Mackenzie heirs sold it in 1969 and it passed through various hands before selling at auction at Sotheby’s London earlier this year for $220,000. The museum was able to buy it thanks to a  donation from the Anna and Hjalmar Wicander Foundation. It will go on display in the National Museum’s Treasury alongside a miniature portrait of Mackenzie.

Roman building with boar prints found in Corsica

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of two buildings dating to between the 1st and 5th centuries in Penta-Di-Casinca, Corsica. The first is a masonry building with a circular structure connecting to a brick corridor. The floor of the passage is lined with terracotta tiles that bear the unmistakable evidence of a previous visitor: the hoof print of a pig or small wild boar stamped onto the tile when it was still wet. This is believed to have been a heating structure. Only the foundations of the second building have been unearthed. They are made of blocks of large, rounded river stones known as galets roulés.

The site is just over a mile from the sea shore, a half mile from the Fium’Alto river and six miles from the Roman city of Mariana, founded in 100 B.C. by general and seven-times-consul Gaius Marius as a colony for the veterans of his legions. The discovery of notable buildings at Penta-Di-Cascina suggest there may have been a second urban agglomeration close to Mariana.

The complex is distinguished by the quality of its structures. In particular, archaeologists have discovered several pipes for collecting and treating wastewater. In the center of the right-of-way, three gutters have been brought to light. Two, built in bricks and tiles, seem to work with the first building while a third gutter running through the entire excavation right-of-way intersects them. It is distinguished by the construction materials used: its walls are made of bricks and it is covered with massive shale slabs. These structures bear witness to the attention paid to water by the occupants and their standard of living.

Penta-Di-Casinca and its region have great archaeological potential. In the past, several occupations were identified and in 1972, a survey carried out near the excavation right-of-way revealed the remains of a building and a network of gutters and lead pipes which are part of the continuity of the discoveries that have just been made by Inrap. More recently, surveys carried out on the same locality have made it possible to estimate an area of ​​ancient habitat extending over more than three hectares. Building materials as well as a large quantity of ancient ceramics have been observed there.

Unfinished Roman-era statue found in Greece

A rare unfinished statue from the Roman Imperial era has been unearthed in Veria in Central Macedonia, Greece. It was discovered last Friday in a rescue excavation of one of very few sites in this ancient city that has not been built on before.

The ancient city of Veria was an important political and military center under the Macedonian kings of the Argead Dynasty, most famously Alexander the Great and his father Philip II. It was second only to the Argead capital of Pella in importance, and after the death of Alexander’s son put an end to the Argead rule, Veria became the seat of the Macedonian Koinon (commonwealth). After the Roman conquest, the koinon was reshaped into a civic institution with a focus on the imperial cult run by local elites. Veria flourished under Rome, eclipsing Pella to become the main regional center. When Diocletian restructured the administration of the empire in 293 A.D., Veria became one of two capitals of the new Roman province of Macedonia. (The other was Thessaloniki.)

The statue’s style suggests it was carved when the city was prospering in the late 2nd or early 3rd century A.D. Just over three feet tall, the statue is missing its head and is still encased in some of the marble block from which it was carved. The nude youth wears a chlamys (cloak) draped around his left shoulder. As it is unfinished and headless, narrowing down the subject is impossible, but Statues of naked men were either athletes or gods in the Greek sculptural tradition, but the subject is unknown here due to its unfinished, headless condition. Hermes, one of the Dioscuri (the twins Castor and Pollux) and Apollo are all possibilities, as is Alexander the Great.

It is the work of a very skilled craftsman who, for whatever reason, never finished the piece. The sculptor, although he had advanced far in the creation of his sculpture, had reached a point almost at the final stage when he apparently decided to abandon the effort, unfinished.

This fact makes the discovery of the statue even more significant, however, since it gives art historians an opportunity to study not only the style, but the production techniques of these types of artworks.

The statue may have been meant as an exact copy or a freer recreation of a famous original; either way, it can help researchers understand the Veroia school of sculpture from a completely different point of view.

Savonarola returns to his priory cell

Terracotta bust of Girolamo Savonarola, late 15th/early16th c., by Fra' Mattia della Robbia. Photo courtesy Ministero della Cultura Direzione regionale musei della Toscana.A previously unpublished bust of Renaissance firebrand friar Girolamo Savonarola has gone on public display for the first time at the convent of San Marco where Savonarola was once prior. It dates to the late 15th or early 16th century and is also the only surviving in-the-round sculpture of Savonarola known to have been made in the Renaissance.

The polychrome terracotta bust is a departure from the classic representation of Savonarola in profile, black hood pulled low on his forehead, originally created by Dominican painter Fra Bartolomeo. The frontal portrait bust captures the severe expression and hooked nose seen in the Bartolomeo painting, but with piercing light blue eyes.

What’s more, it was made by someone who knew him personally. The sculptor was Marco della Robbia, aka Fra Mattia, son of Andrea della Robbia and fervent follower of Girolamo Savonarola. Mattia was one of the friars who took up arms to fight the authorities when they arrested Savonarola at San Marco on April 8th, 1498.

The bust is on long-term loan to the Museum of San Marco from lawyer and collector Alessandro Kiniger. It has been installed in the room where, according to tradition, Savonarola lived when he was prior. It is on display alongside the famous profile portrait by Fra Bartolomeo, another work by Bartolomeo depicting St. Peter with the face of Savonarola, and autograph manuscripts of sermons written and delivered by Savonarola.