Silver-gilt and Enamel Vase

  • This item was purchased by Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Silver-gilt and Enamel Vase in the Moorish Gothic Taste, Attributed to Karl Wagner or F. J. Rudolphi, set with paste jewels, the body centred with a scene of Louis IX of France in battle on one side, inscribed ‘LUDOVICUS IX REX FRANCORUM PUGNANS TALLEBURGI A D MCCXLII’, and, on the other, of him on his deathbed, inscribed ‘LUDOVICUS IX REX FRANCORUM MORIENS TUNETI A DOM MCCLXX’. Circa 1839-44.

Height  18½"  (47cm).

A very similar silver-gilt and enamel vase, signed by Karl Wagner, is in the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin.(1)  Another, almost identical, by his successor, Rudolphi, was exhibited in Paris at the Exposition de l’Industrie, in 1844.(2)

Karl Wagner (1799-1841) was born in Berlin and became an official Master Craftsman and Citizen in 1823. Encouraged by Peter Christian Wilhelm Beuth, the influential Director of the Preussisches Gewerbeinstitut, he revived the 16th Century technique of niello ornament. He moved to Paris in 1830, in search of new clients, setting up a jewellery firm, Mention & Wagner, with the gem-cutter Mention, and patenting his niello technique. The Duke of Orléans and Princess Marie became important patrons, one notable commission for them being a table service with a centrepiece in niello. Wagner quickly became established as an influential and innovative figure. By the mid-1830s he had 40-50 people working for him, and was considered the leading jeweller and silversmith of his time. Interestingly, Wagner's work style reflected that of the Renaissance goldsmiths by whom he was inspired, as unlike later 19th Century goldsmiths, who implemented a strict division of labour in their workshops, Wagner was known as an artist-craftsman, talented not only in design but in modelling and chasing as well. In 1837 he was made a Knight of the Légion d'Honneur.

He participated in the major exhibitions of the time, winning a gold medal at the 1834 Paris Exhibition, and making a particular impact at the 1839 Paris Exhibition, where he showed a large and impressive collection of works of art, including a silver ewer with bas-reliefs representing Temperance and Intemperance, a cup decorated with historical and allegorical ornaments, vases, ornamental shields, coffers and jewellery. The vase in the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin was probably exhibited along with these items in 1839. Wagner's pupil, F. J. Rudolphi, took over the workshop after Wagner's premature death in a hunting accident in 1841.

An example of Wagner's influence on later goldsmiths and jewellers is a chalice, now in the Gilbert Collection,(3) possibly by Lucien Falize, which, when exhibited in 1981, was described by John Hayward as ‘one of the most sumptuous creations of the XIXth-century Historicist Style’, adding that ‘the most closely related object is the enamelled and jewelled silver-gilt vase in Moorish-Gothic style by Karl Wagner’, referring to the vase in Berlin.(4)

The subject of the scenes on the vase, Louis IX of France (1214-70), took part in two Crusades, joining the seventh in 1248, during which he was captured in Egypt and ransomed, afterwards strengthening Christian fortifications in the Levant. He left on another Crusade in 1270, but upon arrival in Tunisia, fell ill and died of typhoid fever, as depicted on this vase. His several connections with England, including his half-English mother, Blanche of Castile, and his brother-in-law, Henry III of England, explain the appearance of English motifs on the vase. Because of his piety and renown as a successful mediator among European sovereigns, Louis IX was canonised in 1297.



1)  Barbara Mundt, Historismus, Berlin 1973, no. 46.

2)  Jules Barat, Exposition de l'Industrie Française Année 1844, Tome II, 1844, p. 31 and a plate after p. 32.

3)  Timothy B. Schroder, The Gilbert Collection of Gold and Silver, 1988, no. 170, pp. 628-32.

4)  Objects for a 'Wunderkammer, Colnaghi exhibition catalogue, ed. Alvar González-Palacios, 1981, no. 152, pp. 320-21.

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