Preview – Carlton Hobbs Exhibiting at Tefaf 2015

March 11 2015, 11:41am

Carlton Hobbs is excited to be exhibiting at this year’s TEFAF Machtricht, which opens this week! We hope you will be able to stop by and visit us at our booth, number 271. The fair will be held at MECC, Maastricht from March 13th-22nd and is open daily from 11am-7pm, apart from Sunday, March 22nd, from 11am-6pm The preview reception is Thursday, March 12th from noon-9pm. As we add the finishing touches to our booth, here is a sneak peek of one pieces we will be exhibiting this year. More TEFAF updates to follow shortly! An Exceedingly Rare Tulipwood And Boxwood Inlaid Éclosoir And Coconnier. French. Circa 1780. Carlton Hobbs LLC. This piece appears to be an entirely unique survival of a cabinet designed for the hatching and nurturing of silk worms from late eighteenth century France. During this period, that country, and in particular the city of Lyon, was leading the world in the production of silk and its related textiles, having wrested the initiative from Italian centers like Genoa and Lucca earlier in the century. Under the encouragement of the monarchy and the government, manufacturers were rapidly improving and developing the technologies and techniques involved in the fabric’s production. The present cabinet’s compact scale and its elaborate decoration would suggest that it was intended for use by an affluent amateur enthusiast of silk production, and it is clear that the piece has been conceived with an exacting and artistically informed patron in mind. While giving the appearance of a cabinet raised on legs with a system of circular perforations, it is also a strong statement of the early phase of the neoclassical style, which France was so influential in championing. On closer inspection, the holes form the center of continuous rows of layered guilloche patterns, a popular late-eighteenth century motif derived from Greek and Roman antiquity. The fact that this design fulfills the combined functions of decoration, ventilation, and a place for silkworms to spin their cocoons, adds to the remarkable conceit of this piece. Carlton Hobbs LLC. Silk production is one of the earliest forms of organized manufacture in history, first recorded in China in the 4th Century BC. There the material quickly obtained enormous cultural significance, where it was used to denote social status in clothing, as a surface for painting, and was later found to be useful in making bows and fishing implements like nets and lines.1 Chinese silk was much sought after by ancient cultures in the west; the Greeks referred to the Chinese as the Seres or ‘people of silk’. Later the elites of the Roman Empire prized it enormously, so much so that the Imperial senate attempted to ban it. It arrived via the Silk Road, a lengthy and laborious cross-land trading route consisting of several stages, which began to be widely used around 200 AD. The road was crucial as the only means by which wealth, but also cultural and intellectual influences could spread between west and east; it had major impact on the development of cultures at both its extremities and those between. The methods involved in making silk were fiercely guarded in China, but the western obsession with the material caused the Byzantine Emperor Justinian to send a mission to go there and learn the secrets of its production and bring back all the required equipment including the worms; the mission was successful and silk production began in Constantinople not long after. The crusades, and especially the sack of Constantinople in 1204 led to the secrets being taken to Western Europe, especially Italy, where centers such as Lucca, Genoa and Venice would dominate its production until the sixteenth century. Carlton Hobbs LLC. The French king Louis XI in 1466 fostered a French silk industry in Lyon, which by the sixteenth century was beginning to overtake its Italian rivals. By the eighteenth there was an enormous rise in the cultivation of silk worms in Provence which coincided with a increase in consumption of the material by the French aristocracy, not just for clothing but for wall covering and upholstery of furniture. It even became fashionable to change the silk upholstery on seating, walls and curtains depending on the season. Queen Marie Antoinette was especially fond of embroidered silk, redecorating her bedroom in Versailles with floral panels of the most elaborate kind, a scheme that is still in place today. The breed of worm that has been most widely used for silk production is the Bombyx Mori, which was domesticated from the wild equivalent, the Bombyx Mandarina, native to a wide geographical area ranging from India to Northern China. The domesticated breed is larger, and therefore spins more extensive cocoons, but it is unable to fly, has no inherent fear of predators and is therefore been rendered entirely unable to survive in the wild. Carlton Hobbs LLC. The cabinet is equipped with five drawers with holes at either end, and bears three articulated frames on the top and sides, also perforated. The drawers and frames equip this piece with the ability to support the two crucial phases of a silk worm’s development from egg to cocoon. Its drawers were to be used as areas for the incubation of the tiny eggs. Once placed in a warm humid room the holes would allow the requisite warm and moist air to circulate in the drawers, stimulating development of the eggs and eventual hatching. The incubation of the eggs was a delicate part of the process. They had to be kept in moist air between 78 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (25.5 to 29.4 Celsius) for around a week to prompt the hatching process. The subsequent larvae had also to be kept at this temperature for around 14 days after hatching whilst feeding on mulberry leaves until reaching a length of ¾ of an inch. In these drawers the newly-hatched larvae would continue to be fed, allowing them to grow and shed their skins four times before they were large enough to spin their cocoons. At this point the worms would be removed from the drawers, and each one placed in the three exterior walls of the cabinet. Thus the cabinet is both an incubator, or couveuse, and a cocoonery. Each cocoon is made up from a strand of silk that is between 600 and 800 meters long. To prevent the newly-formed moth inside burrowing it way out and thus ruining the strand, the cocoons were thrown in boiling water which both killed animal inside and broke down the glue-like substance binding it. Then would begin the painstaking work of finding the end of the silk strand and unraveling it ready for spinning into yarn. Remarkably the cabinet has space for 238 cocoons on the sides and 247 on the top; a total of 485.  Generally speaking, around 1,000 cocoons are required to make a pound of silk. Thus, after one cycle of use the cabinet would allow its owner to make around half a pound; enough for a large handkerchief. That the cabinet would need to be placed in a warm and humid space in order for it to work, possibly an orangery or early greenhouse, would further suggest a distinguished patron. Figure 1A French silkworm incubator from the early nineteenth century. A later, related piece of furniture of this kind was illustrated in a publication entitled L’art d’élever les vers à soie dans le département de la Côte d’Or et dans les départements circonvoisins (The art of raising silk worms in the Côte d’Or and surrounding regions) of 1833 (figure 1). The cabinet in the drawing has some comparable features to the present piece, in particular the holes, drawers and elaborate marquetry. The manual explains how such a cabinet was to be used: …the most convenient and safest method for those engaged in rearing of silkworms is to hatch the eggs in an incubator … This device is a tin box, in the form of a little house, double-lined on all of its sides except one which opens entirely.  Its two lateral faces are pierced from side to side with three levels of windows; the lid is similarly pierced at the corners with four round holes of an inch in diameter… Carlton Hobbs LLC. That example has been adapted to house a thermometer so that the ideal temperature for the hatching of the eggs can be maintained. There is also the additional option of being able to warm the cabinet with a lamp from below. Another author writing on the subject of rearing silkworms was the great Italian agriculturalist and chemist Vincenzo Dandolo (1758-1819) who is his work The Art of Raising Silkworms of 1825 makes some statements that appear especially relevant to the present piece: “The eggs of these insects should not be hatched by means of animal heat, but by uniform atmospheric warmth, which should surround them entirely … A small room or space should be preferred to a large one, as it is thus more easy to regulate the heat … the boxes should all be distinctly numbered … there is scarcely an individual into who’s hands this book may fall who has not, either in his own person or in that of his connections, witnessed how successfully these insects may be reared on a small scale” These principals are in evidence in the design of the present piece; the importance of allowing the warm air to circulate, the numbering of the drawers, and the endorsement of raising the creatures on a small scale. Carlton Hobbs LLC. The piece’s shape and its inlay with marquetry are unmistakably French in character and datable to the 1780s when the French silk industry was at its zenith. At this time, the processes used in its production were subject to considerable innovation and improvement by entrepreneur inventors, the most famous being Philippe de Lasalle (1723-1804) who was encouraged in his endeavors by royal and governmental patronage. In 1774 he was awarded for the invention of the semple, a device that allowed patterns to be transferred between looms easily, and in 1776 was made a knight of the Order of St Michael. This was part of a the more scientific and technological approach in the industry symptomatic of the Age of Enlightenment, and evidenced by publications such as Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, published between 1751 and 1772, which dealt with the production of silk in much detail (figure 2). French manuals on the production of silk from some thirty years before in the 1740s were still recommending that makers incubate silk worms by warming them on their bodies; a practice that apparently continued through the nineteenth into the early twentieth century. Figure 2Illustration from D’Albert and Diderot’s Encyclopédie illustrating the processes involved in silk production. The usefulness of a frame with a series of holes to serve as accommodation for silkworm cocoons is an idea that has surfaced elsewhere.  In the Silk Culturist and Farmer’s Manual of 1836 it stipulates: “Take a piece of 11 inch pine plank and with a very keen center bit and bore a hole through the plank in every square inch of it … the advantages of this frame are numerous; first – the holes being only about the size of a cocoon, no room is left for the worm to spin floss, nearly all the cocoon will reel; second – being placed so near the worms they ascend into the holes much easier…; third – the worms are entirely prevented from making duplicates or double cocoons which are worth only half price; fourth – if, as always the case, late or lazy worms should be left on the shelf or table , they may easily be taken by the head and dropped into the empty holes in the frame, where they will soon begin to spin.” Carlton Hobbs LLC.