A two-door cabinet standing on four turned feet of solid ivory. The entire cabinet is veneered with tortoiseshell and ivory in premiére and contre-partie. The cabinet has two large doors, the inner sides of which are also veneered with tortoiseshell and ivory. Behind these doors are twelve drawers: four larger ones at the top and bottom, with eight smaller ones in-between. These drawers can be opened using solid silver pulls. The drawers surround a central open section, which is decorated with a solid ivory Corinthian column aligned with the section’s central axis, flanked by two arches standing upon solid ivory balusters. The section’s “floor” has tortoiseshell and ivory parquetry in a block motif. The section’s inner surfaces are decorated with three mirrors, two of which are oriented diagonally. The section can be removed as a single unit, revealing another twelve smaller drawers behind it. The cabinet’s overall decoration consists of stylised tortoiseshell and ivory flowers, engraved and inlaid with glass and semi-precious stones. The inner and outer doors and sides of the cabinet are decorated with centrally positioned, framed representations of architectural elements, flowers and figures. These representations were inspired by the styles of Daniel Marot (1660/61–1752) and Jean Bérain (1640-1711).
This cabinet is a unique piece in the oeuvre of the instrument maker Joachim Tielke. Although the instrument-makers of Hamburg were not affiliated with a guild, the guild regulation of other guilds would refrain Tielke from crafting other goods than instruments for the free market. However, Tielke made an exception to the rule. A large sumptuous cabinet with ‘tortoise-shell, ivory, mother-of-pearl and many semi-precious but finely cut and partly coloured stone’ was spotted in 1711 by the book collector Zacharias von Uffenbach (1683-1734). He visited Tielke’s shop to buy a guitar and noted in his travel diary (published in 1753) its ‘exceptional beauty’.
Joachim Tielke is considered one of the great instrument makers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Alongside the members of his large business of luthiers and specialty carvers, he is responsible for an oeuvre of staggering variety renowned for superb craftsmanship and use of luxury materials. The extant violins, guitars, violas da gamba, bell citterns, lutes, and other instruments that bear Tielke’s name number, can today be seen in museums and private collections throughout the world. Tielke’s skill as craftsman, decorative artist and businessman continues to inspire instrument makers, musicians, and historians centuries after his death. He was renowned for the use of precious materials such as ivory, ebony, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl and semi-precious stones. This made Joachim Tielke's instruments desirable works of art for the nobility.
Zacharias von Uffenbach
This cabinet was seen on the 24th of February 1711 wheen Zacharias von Uffenbach (1683-1734) visited the shop of Joachim Tielke to buy a guitar. Von uffenbach was a book collector wo travelled trough Germany Holland and ~England in 1709-1711 and kept a diary which was published in 1753 under the title Merkwürdige Reisen (strange travels. We cite Von Uffenbach’s visit here translated from the German volume one, page 88,89: The 24th of February in the morning we bought at Sir Tielke’s a finely inlaid lute, for 100 mark is 50 guilders heavy money. He showed us an incomparable cabinet, which was designed by his second son who is now a valet to the duke of Mecklenburg Strelitz. It (the cabinet) is rather large and inlaid amazingly with tortoise-shell, ivory, mother of pearl and many semi-precious (fake) but finely cut and partly coloured stones. Very admirable and graceful inlaid with an engraving very fine finished with gold. On both sides it had drawers but in the middle it had an open space with mirrors and a column. The space was fulle of gems in ivory which doubled in the mirrors. He (Tielke) assured us he was offerd 800 Species Thaler for it. It is for sure a very special and beautiful work. (Source: Zacharias Konrad von Uffachbach, Merkwürdige Reise durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland, part 2, (Frankfurt/Main, Leipzig, 1753), pp. 88,89.)
The cabinet decorations
The centrally placed decoration on the inner and outer sides of the doors and the sides of the cabinet is done in an manner typically for Tielke. The foliage around the medallions with scenes containing various figures are clearly inspired by the designs of Daniel Marot (1660/61–1752) and Jean Bérain (1640-1711). He used partie and contre-partie parts in one object instead of two as in the case of the guitars in the V&A and the Met.
The oval medallions themselves, located towards the bottom of the doors, as well as the square medallions on the sides, are in large part direct copies from sources such as the emblem prints of Anthonie de Winter (Utrecht 1652/53 – Amsterdam, in or after 1707). These emblems were published in print between 1697 and 1718 as a series of twelve, containing aphorisms on the subject of love and other matters of life (note: Verscheijde Nieuwe en Seer Aardige Geinventeertde Compartemente en Sinrijcke Emblemataas of Sinnebeelden seer Dienstigh voor Silversmeeden). They consisted of a pictura (picture) and an accompanying motto in Latin.
Anthonie de Winter’s emblem prints that were used for the cabinet dealt with the subject of love. As such, the images on the sides of the cabinet show two putti forging an arrow on an anvil. This arrow was meant to strike people’s hearts, which is exactly what we see happening on the left door. The result of being struck in the heart is the catching and binding of one’s paramour, which is represented on the right door.
The scene showing a man, woman and child is based on the myth of Venus and Adonis. The composition matches De Winter’s example print in this regard: only certain details have been left out, such as Adonis’s weapon and the hunting dogs. The story of Venus and Adonis originated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. With the help of little Amor, the goddess of love, Venus, tries to prevent Adonis from going on a hunt, as she fears that the hunt will cost him his life (which it does). The moment of Venus and Amor’s futile attempt to stop Adonis as he walks away is a historically popular subject in the arts, and is the topic of this decoration, albeit in a simplified form.
On the right door we see a putto and a man bearing a spear. No specific inspiration has yet been found for this scene. What stands out is that certain motifs which were directly derived from the aforementioned example prints are repeated in the three-dimensional decoration on the inside of the cabinet’s centre section. For example, the characteristic crown on the arch that the putto is stepping through in the image on the outside of the right door and the inside of the left door is repeated in the arches in the cabinet interior’s central section. The somewhat peculiar construction in the central section comprising a three-dimensional, centrally placed single pillar made of ivory is visually reiterated in the decorative scene showing a heart on a pillar on the left door. The ornamental motifs used in the frames around these scenes, which serve to provide the sides and doors of the cabinet with more elaborate decoration, were derived from prints by Daniel Marot and Jean Bérain. Marot’s and Bérain’s designs became widely renowned after they were published in print and distributed internationally around 1700. Although the motifs in the framing decorations were clearly inspired by Marot’s and Bérain’s prints, no single print can be identified from which they were directly copied. It was not unusual for artisans to “cut and paste” various motifs from different prints, recombining them into a new whole and executing this design in a different (and often expensive) material, as has been so masterfully done with ivory and tortoiseshell on this cabinet.
Not much is known of Tielke’s early life. He was born into a large musical family in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), but eventually settled in Hamburg, a city whose vibrant musical community and repository of Baroque luminaries—among his acquaintances were organist Andreas Kneller and composer Dietrich Buxtehude—served as inspiration for his craft. He and his older brother Gottfried (who later took holy orders and gave up instrument making) were taught to make instruments in a workshop in Königsberg whose origins remain unknown, and most likely did not apprentice with Italian luthiers in Brescia, as was once thought. In 1667, at the age of twenty-five, Tielke moved to Hamburg and joined the workshop of Dutch-born instrument maker Christoffer Fleischer, whose daughter, Catharina, he married; two years later, he became a freeman (Neubürger) and citizen of Hamburg after taking an oath (and paying heavily), but he did not join the powerful guild system. This gave him leave to form a workshop of his own, which serviced his reputation as luthier, merchant, and entrepreneur and encouraged the growth of what would become an impressive business.
Chief among Tielke’s contributions are the Hamburger Cithrinchen, or bell citterns, instruments highly fashionable in Hamburg from around 1650 to 1750. Tielke’s citterns are often lavishly decorated with Laub- und Bandelwerk (leaf- and bandwork) and inlaid with expensive materials such as ivory, tortoiseshell, ebony, or mother-of-pearl. On certain pieces, the inlaid pattern reflects, in reverse, that of another instrument, as in the case of a cittern in the Hamburg Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, whose decorative back and side bouts are the counterpart to those of the cittern at the Metropolitan.
This technique of reverse inlay—at once an artful method of conserving material and a reflection of precision handiwork—is known as intarsia, and it also appears on a number of Tielke’s Baroque guitars. The more decorated instruments feature complex floral marquetry that stretches from the back of the instrument, along the neck, and around the whole of the pegbox; the pattern it forms is then echoed beautifully in the rosette—carved in a lace pattern on the center of the table. At times, Tielke’s décor features more elaborate, classical iconography—often with easily readable moralizing scenes, or epigrammatic messages on banners held by putti—alluding to music’s role as a high art. One source of these allegories is Otto van Veen’s Amorum emblemata, the 124-plate volume of designs published in Antwerp in 1608, whose templates were consulted by decorative artists throughout northern Europe.
Instruments traveled, like other goods in Tielke’s day, through an international network of luthiers and dealers, and were bought and sold to suit the needs of wealthy patrons and the musicians that had begun to call cities like Hamburg home. Tielke played a dominant role in this system and is now considered the most important dealer of the time in Hamburg. As musical repertoire began to increase in difficulty, the violin and cello—two members of the violin family to emerge as solo instruments during the Baroque era—were in high demand and became grounds upon which makers experimented with sound production, proportion, and size. In the hands of the numerous craftsmen in Tielke’s workshop, these instruments also became the decorative equivalents of the virtuosic music for which they were used. His violins typically feature delicate edgework and corners, pegboxes that terminate in human or animal heads, and bird’s-eye maple backs and sides; at times, they take a feminine form, which might allude to the higher pitch of the instrument.
Due to the even greater demand in Tielke’s day for the viola da gamba—the instrument whose flat back, sloping shoulders, and six or seven strings distinguish it from members of the violin family—Tielke and his workshop would produce many, indeed, more viols than any other instrument. Tielke’s viols and division viols often feature, like his violins and ‘cellos, superbly carved scrolls in the form of human or bestial heads, side bouts with intricate floral patterns, and decorative purfling, or inlaid detail around the table. Classical imagery covers the backs of instruments bound for wealthier patrons, and the sound production is still considered strong and bright, ideal for solo playing. The viola da gamba’s popularity would not last, however, and by the end of the eighteenth century many instruments, including Tielke’s, would be cut down to form violins and ‘cellos, which were rapidly replacing the viol in the musical repertoire.
A publication was dedicated to Tielke by Günther Hellwig. Hellwig lists the total number of 139 instruments still existing of Tielke's oeuvre, with lutes, angelicas, theorboes, bell citterns (Ger Hamburger Cithrinchen), guitars, pochettes, violins, viole d'amore without sympathetic strings, barytons, viole da gamba, and bows. The publications of 2011 and 2020 omit few instruments and the bows as unauthentic, but new findings raise the total number of instruments and fragments from the Tielke workshop to 174. However, nearly thirty instruments not known to Hellwig have come up, among them the fragment of a baryton, a cello, more viols, guitars, and lutes. Tielke's existing oeuvre is therefore one of the most comprehensive and by number close to that of Stradivari and the other great Italian makers. Tielke's instruments are famous not only for their marquetry and carved heards, but also for their tonal qualities.
A much-debated question is that of the contribution Tielke himself made to the instruments signed with his name. The examination of his work leads to the idea that he engaged outside craftsmen and artists for the supply of carvings and marquetry, possibly even complete instruments.
Zacharias von Uffenbach, Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen Holland un England, 1753, part two, pp. 88,89.
Barbara Hellwig, Friedemann Hellwig, Joachim Tielke – kunstvolle Musikinstrumente des Barock, Deutscher kunstverlag 2011.
Friedemann and Barbara Hellwig, Joachim Tielke. Neue Funde zu Werk und Wirkung, Berlin/Munich 2020.
Günther Hellwig, Joachim Tielke: ein Hamburger Lauten- und Violenmacher der Barockzeit, Frankfurt/Main 1980.
Alexander Pilipczuk and Carlos O. Boerner Joachim Tielke: Instrument-Maker and Merchant of Hamburg. Recent Findings about His Education and Professional Life, in
The Galpin Society Journal , Apr., 2008, Vol. 61 (Apr., 2008), pp. 129-146.
Thanks to Elizabeth Weinfield for citing her text from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000
Joachim Tielke Hamburg 1711 (seen by Von Uffenbach);
Castle Aldendriel, Van Oudenaarde family;
Private collection, the Netherlands.