You Never Know What You Might Find... An Important Collection of Neoclassical Intaglios

Found in a home in Hong Kong, an important collection of 100 hardstone Neoclassical Intaglios, 98 of which were formerly in the collection of Prince Stanislas Poniatowski (1754-1833) was discovered in Hong Kong home by Jonathan Macey, Founder & CEO of Macey & Sons.


“This is the first time that this collection has been on the market for 182 years since 1839 and this has set a new record for Intaglios. We are well connected in the UK and US, and provide unparalleled knowledge on a wide range of artifacts. You never know what treasures people may have at home.”

- Jonathan Macey, Macey & Sons


Provenance: Prince Stanislas Poniatowski

Estimate: £40,000 - £60,000

Sold for £260,000+ 25% Buyers Premium


“Each intaglio carved in carnelian, sardonyx, amethyst or chalcedony to depict a classical scene, with majority with Greek pseudo signature, each with an electrotype cast, in two wooden and Perspex frames each containing 50 intaglios and together with a hardbound reference catalogue with slipcase.”


- Description as per the Beazley Archive, with thanks to Dr Claudia Wagner of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford for her assistance with research for our comparative references to the Beazley Archive.



Provenance:

  • Prince Stanislas Poniatowski

  • Christie's, London, 1839

  • John Tyrell Esq.

  • Various private collections

  • Property of a private lady in Hong Kong. Inherited from her father in 1999. He purchased the gems from Collingwood, Conduit Street in 1973, who commissioned the electrotype casts, compiled the reference catalogue and mounted them on display boards.


ABOUT PRINCE STANISLAS PONIATOWSKI (1754 - 1833)

Prince Poniatowski was the nephew of the last King of Poland. He was well educated and developed a keen interest in the arts including Classical mythology. He emigrated to Italy at the end of the 18th century and after the Partition of Poland where he lived in Rome and Florence.

It was here in the early 19th century that he commissioned over 2500 hardstone intaglios to be carved in the Classical manner, in the spirit of the Grand Tour. The skilled gem engravers who included Luigi Pichler (1773 - 1854) and Giovanni Calandrelli (1784-1853), were exclusively influenced by Classical literature, especially the works of Homer, Virgil and Ovid rather than the many ancient Classical representations which had inspired so much Neoclassical art. Together with their stylistic interpretation of the subjects, this gave them a distinct originality and a unique visual language.


Poniatowski did little to discourage the misconception that his gems were Classical and used contemporary Greek pseudo signatures. He published two catalogues of his gems and his collection was sold after his death at a Christie's auction in 1839. The deception was exposed and the gems were recognised and spurned as 'modern'; with the majority being acquired by John Tyrrell. The collection was subsequently split and has been widely dispersed ever since. The intaglios being offered now are probably the largest collection of Poniatowski intaglios to be offered at auction since the mid 19th century.


WHAT IS A SIGNET RING?


Originally signet rings were emblazoned with a family crest and they would frequently be used to stamp or sign a document. The shape would leave a permanent mark in any soft wax or even clay and this would be placed onto a variety of legal documents. Some of the most important documents in history have been stamped with a signet ring. In its day the stamp of a ring was seen as more authentic than a signature.


Before the present day it was normal for all the most influential people in the world to have these rings and use them to confirm the authenticity of any document. These rings usually look magnificent but they were designed with a very practical purpose in mind.


Every ring was unique, the markings usually included the family crest, but there would always be a significant mark that personally identified the ring holder. Some of the rings were simple monograms or icons which were associated with the most important families. All rings were reverse engineered to ensure that the design came out properly when they were stamped on a document. Of course, this level of detail also ensured the rings were expensive and very difficult to copy.


The signet ring was used as long ago as 3500 BC. Records show the people of Mesopotamia used cylindrical seals as marks of authenticity. This is really the origin of the corporate seal which is still used by some companies today.



REFERENCE LITERATURE

  • Catalogue des pierres gravés antiques de S.A. le Prince Stanislas Poniatowski ([1830?]-1833)

  • Prendeville, J.: Explanatory catalogue of the proof-impressions of the antique gems possessed by the late Prince Poniatowski and now in the possession of John Tyrrell, Esq. (1841)

  • Platz-Horster,G.: L'antica maniera. Zeichnungen und Gemmen des Giovanni Calandrelli in der Antikensammlung Berlin (2005)

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