Hi! I’ve been off adventuring and finally found my way back to my computer. Last night was a first, even for me. My husband and I were among the few guests invited to view the new exhibition at The Frick Museum: Gold, Jasper, and Carnelian: Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court. The show is on exhibition through August 19, 2012. We were standing in front Neuber’s most famous masterpiece: The Breteuil Table (pictured above). The table was presented in 1781 by Friedrich Augustus III to Louis Auguste de Breteuil, Baron de Breteuil (1730–1807), a French diplomat, as recognition for the role he had played in the negotiation of the Treaty of Teschen, which officially ended the War of Bavarian Succession. The Breteuil Table is regarded as one of the most extraordinary pieces of eighteenth-century furniture ever made, distinguished not only by the materials used in its construction: a mosaic of one-hundred-and-twenty-eight gemstones and Meissen porcelain plaques representing peace and honoring the diplomat whose efforts brought it about. The detail in the table is humbling; each gem specimen is numbered. Apparently, Neuber had handwritten books made to accompany his mosaics, detailing the gemstones he used to create them. He even had tiny books made for his mosaic snuff boxes — these boxes were his stock-in-trade, and often given as gifts of state. Two of these charming tiny books are also on display, together with their respective snuff boxes.
Did I mention the Baron’s ancestor, the Marquise de Breteuil, was present last night? He was, and looked every bit as enthusiastic about sharing this remarkable family heirloom with New York City as we were in viewing it.
The table is in breathtaking condition and fascinating to explore (with one’s eyes, no touching allowed). The gems are used in a painterly way — their patterning is brilliant and offers a uniquely tactile quality. Mosaics come in only a few genres: micro-mosaics are achieved with tiny glass tesserae and pieta-dura is set with gemstones. Neuber’s art was worked in precious metal and locally obtained agates and gemstones. One of the information plaques in the show states that a tourist guide of Neuber’s time listed his workshop as a must-see. In 1769, Neuber became director of the Grünes Gewölbe, the magnificent State Treasury, and was appointed court jeweler in 1775.
There is a fascinating app for iPad that accompanies the exhibition, and please be sure to view it here as you get an intimate view of the Breteuil table top. The Frick Museum is a gem both inside and out, and this exhibition is unequivocally worth the trip (after you’ve finished seeing the show, head over to Serendipity on 60th and splurge some calories on one of their delicious sweets — that’s what we did).