Johann Christian Neuber (1736-1808) and his father-in-law, Heinrich Taddel are credited with the development of the technique Zellen mosaik lapidary, in which hardstone panels are suspended à jour within a fine geometric cagework of gold. This technique, which is similar to creating cloisonné enamel, is highlighted by the juxtaposition of opaque and translucent panels in the present box.
Born in Neuwunsdorf on 7 April 1736, Johann Christian Neuber was apprenticed at the age of seventeen to Johann Friedrich Trechaon. On 13 July 1762 he became a master of the goldsmith's guild in Dresden, and in 1769 he succeeded his father-in-law Heinrich Tadell as director of the Green Vaults. By 1775 he had been appointed Hofjuwelier to the court of Friedrich Augustus III.
In an advertisement in the Journal der Moden of April 1786, Neuber praised his stock-in-trade which sold 'at the cheapest prices', and the present box must have been in the category of 'oval and circular boxes for gentlemen and ladies, as stone-cabinets, mounted in gold and lined with gold, of all Saxon country-stones, such as carnelians, chalcedonies, amethysts, jaspers, agates and petrified wood, numbered, together with an inventory of names, and where they can be found; a box for gentlemen (Manndose) costs 150-300 Reichsthaler, a box for ladies (Damesdose) 90-150 Reichsthaler', W. Holzhausen, Johann Christian Neuber, ein sächsischer Meister des 18. Jahrhunderts, Dresden, 1935, p. 12. Three oval examples are also recorded in H. and S. Berry, Antique Gold Boxes, London, New York, 1953, p. 131, figs. 112 and 113, and in A. K. Snowman, Eighteenth Century Gold Boxes of Europe, Woodbridge, 1990, p. 331, figs. 692 and 692A and Christie's, Geneva, 14 November 1995, lot 51. Two further similar circular boxes were sold Christie's, Geneva, 14 November 1995, lots 92 and 112. Another circular example was sold Christie's, London, 10 December 2002, lot 165.
Neuber sometimes provided an accompanying handwritten specification booklet with his boxes which would list the stones used in the construction of the box and the geographical areas from where the stones were collected or could be found. The engraved number above each panel would correspond to the number in the booklet. The stones used in the present example are identified below:
1. Red moss agate, 2. Moss agate, 3. Cloud agate, 4. Jasper, 5. Agate, 6. Cloud agate, 7. Nephrite, 8. Agate, 9. Agate, 10. Lapis lazuli, 11. Grey agate, 12. Aventurine quartz, 13. Jasper, 14. Agate, 15. Jasper, 16. Nephrite, 17. Red moss agate, 18. Petrified wood, 19. Lapis lazuli, 20. Agate jasper, 21. Amethyst, 22. Green jasper, 23. Red agate, 24. Labradorite, 25. Quartz, 26. Brown and white jasper, 27. Agate/jasper, 28. Debris agate, 29. Agate jasper, 30. Jasper, 31. Agate, 32. Agate, 33. Agate, 34. Pudding-stone, 35. Agate jasper, 36. Agate, 37. Moss agate, 38. Nephrite, 39. Agate, 40. Jasper, 41. Chalcedony, 42. Agate jasper, 43. Agate, 44. Agate, 45. Chrysoprase, 46. Carnelian, 47. Agate, 48. Agate, 49. Amethyst, 50. Agate, 51. Moss agate, 52. Agate, 53. Bismuth, 54. St Stephen's stone agate, 55. Jasper, 56. Lapis lazuli, 57. Agate, 58. Silicified wood, 59. Jasper, 60. Bismuth
Cover and base centre panels red agate.