This inkstand from the Driehaus Collection packs some of the most eye-catchingly elaborate designs and materials into a small and functional space. Visitors are usually able to guess its purpose from the gilt pen trays in the front and back of the object, as well as the symmetrical inkwells on either side. These features, along with a jeweled handbell crowning the entire piece, comprise the functional components of the inkstand; the rest is purely ornamental. The hardstone base is applied with armorials in gold and enamel framed by a diamond-set cartouche; cherubs support the inkwells and frame the monogram, which reads CL. The bell is set with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, and hosts a series of mythological and symbolic figures, such as Hercules and the Hydra, Time, and Victory.
The inkwell was presented to Doctor Ignatz von Zaubzer (1801-1866), who for 25 years served on the executive committee of the—ready for this?—Gemeindebevollmächtigten, a chamber of Munich’s city government. Dr. von Zaubzer had inherited his father’s pharmacy, made his name as one of the city’s apothecaries, and earned distinction in the military, where he achieved Lieutenant-Colonel and was made a Knight of the Order of St. Michael. In 1864, he was given this spectacular inkstand during a ceremony honoring his public service, where he was also awarded with a civil knighthood in the Order of the Crown of Bavaria.
Dr. von Zaubzer left the inkstand to his children after his death, but by 1871 it had traveled into other hands. Sometime before 1902, some new, personal touches were put in place of original features: that CL monogram replaced Zaubzer’s profile; the arms of the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt replaced those of Munich; and the imperial German eagle replaced the Zaubzer arms.
The designer was Fritz von Miller (1840-1921), who began his training in Berlin and Munich. In 1861 he left Germany to spend two years with London’s Hunt & Roskell, where he assisted in preparing for the 1862 Exhibition. By 1863 Miller had landed in Paris, observing the works of the jeweler Christofle, returning to Berlin when his father fell gravely ill.
In the summer of 1864, Miller began making plans for the Zaubzer inkwell, which would be produced as a partnership between himself and the prominent local goldsmith Adam Hausinger (1820-1908), who was also jeweler to the House of Bavaria. Miller’s notes and letters from that period show just how carefully he considered every aspect of the design. The handbell was conceived in the intricate style of 16th-century goldsmith Wenzel Jamnitzer, and it was the central focus of the object, embodying the power and dignity of the office. Miller chose to surround the bell with symbols of strength, Munich, and Zaubzer’s sterling reputation.
The success of the inkstand made Miller’s name and fortune. He secured a professorship at the Munich Kunstgewerbeschule, where he trained a number of later well-known craftsmen and continued making exquisite works in metal, which are today found in various public and private collections, such as this casket in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.