Allegory Of The Vanitas
  • Material :  Ivory
  • Size: 2 1/2" by 2".
  • Date and Origin: from the School of Jacob Dobbermann, Germany, circa 1720.
  • Conditions: Front is mint, a very tiny surface chip on the back , original fitted box. 
More than Museum quality ivory cameo of a rarest subject "the Allegory of Vanitas". I have never seen something of similar carved as a cameo. Finding a so antique cameo more than wonderfully carved and in so mint conditions is extremely rare and I really was lucky. Have you ever seen anything carved like this one? Look at the wonderful pictures, that is the beauty that you get. Nothing less.  The subject in this cameo, as you can see, is watching and listening at someone on his  left side who is whispering something to him. Look at the highest skill of the artist, the abundance of details more than masterly carved. His cloth that is magnificent, his hair, his hands. Everything in this cameo is more than only carving, it is simply art. This is a classic example of a Dutch 'Vanitas' work. They were essentially  religious works in the guise of a still life. 'Vanitas' paintings and other works of art caution the viewer to be careful about placing too much importance in the wealth and pleasures of this life, as they could become an obstacle on the path to salvation. The title 'Vanitas' comes from a quotation from the Book of Ecclesiastes 1:2, 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.' The objects in this cameo have been chosen carefully to communicate the 'Vanitas' message which is summarized in the Gospel of Matthew 6:18-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Each object in the cameo has a different symbolic meaning that contributes to the overall message: The skull, which is the focal point of the work, is the universal symbol of death. The rich cloth is an example of physical luxury. The chisel is another symbol of vanity as it is used to make luxury objects.  Vanitas paintings and other works of art were popular in countries with strict Protestant and Catholic Christian principles such as Holland and Spain. They were purchased by the rich who possessed a conscience about the wealth they had accumulated. However the genre had an inbuilt weakness in the irony that the paintings were also valuable and collectible commodities and, as such, became 'Vanitas' objects themselves. I think that any Museum would be proud to own a piece like this, don't miss it.
A bit of history:
Jacob Dobbermann (b Danzig [now Gdansk], 1682; d Kassel, bur 14 May 1745). Polish amber- and ivory-carver, active in Germany. He almost certainly came from a family of amber-carvers in Danzig; he was probably in London in 1711, but from 1716 until his death he worked at the court of Kassel with the title Amber and Ivory Carver producing small-scale pieces for Charles Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel and later for his son William VIII. By the time of his death he had been appointed royal amber carver. Two of his surviving ambers are in the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Kassel: a figure of Cleopatra and a group of Time and Opportunity (both c. 1725). His known works in ivory include a relief, Homage to Venus, and two statuettes representing Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, and Henry IV of France (all London, V&A), a figure of the Virgin (c. 1720-30; Kassel, Hess. Landesmus.) and one probably representing Jean-Francois Paul de Gondi, Cardinal of Retz (before c. 1740; Germany, Reiner Winkler priv. col.). Many of his works are based on engraved sources by Jan Muller and Simon Thomassin, and his style seems to have been inspired primarily by Netherlandish prototypes.