Carving Connections

September 28 2012, 12:10pm

  This tour de force of rococo carving is perhaps one of the most dynamic, expressive and free-flowing examples of sculpted furniture made in mid-18th century Germany. Its pendant is in the Museum of Applied Arts, Cologne (the Cologne table is incomplete, having had its stretcher removed and the original top replaced) and it is a testament to the quality of design and execution that it has been the subject of much conjecture as to its authorship among leading academics. The table’s design is highly original and appears to owe little debt to previous console table prototypes. It is particularly notable for the opposing female busts that head each scrolling leg. Most unusually, they are carved completely in the round and represent two individual young females, one with a distinctive three-pointed cap and the other with naturalistically flowing hair. The figure bearing the cap is remarkable for being portrayed as apparently in the act of speech and projects the impression of a dialogue between the opposing busts.  

Our current research explores the possibility that the table may be by Aegid Verhelst and his studio, Augsburg, 1740-1745. Verhelst was a sculptor of Flemish origin, born in Antwerp in 1696,who worked in France 1714-15, and then traveled to Munich following Wilhelm de Grof (1676-1742) also a Fleming who became the leading sculptor in the Munich court. The attribution was based, in part, on the distinctive “ball-shaped” heads, heavy eyelids and half-open mouths of the console. However, we recently became aware of similarities to our table in the carving of a ‘Fayence Ofen’ in Schloss Augustusburg, Brühl, carved by Johann Baptist Straub:

As on the present table, the chimney is flanked by two female heads which curve up each side, appearing to emerge from carved rocaille decoration that creates a sort of foliate collar. One of the figures is given a slightly opened mouth and both look toward each other as if in conversation, similar to the treatment of the table.

Furthermore, the chimney is centered by a smiling mask surrounded by rocaille ornament, which is related to the frieze of the table. The low, round cheekbones and furrowed brow of the mask are also common to both pieces.

Johann Baptist Straub (d. 1784) was a German Rococo sculptor born to a family of sculptors in Wiesensteig. In 1737 he was elected the Bavarian court sculptor by Elector Karl Albrecht. Straub worked mainly in Upper Bavarian monasteries and churches, and some of his most important works are in Schloss Nymphenburg and the Residenz in Munich. He also worked extensively with François Cuvilliés the Elder, who was the designer of the Augustusburg oven mentioned above. We will continue to explore Straub’s oeuvre for further connections between his work and the present table.