Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ceci n'est pas une Pipe

Courtesy of a Private Collection

While everyone would agree that this is not a pipe (at least we know Magritte would), it is an intriguing artifact that builds upon the same materials, meerschaum and amber (and in this case two types of amber), similarly balanced whereby the amber base serves in an essential supporting role to the leading meerschaum sculpture.

In its "supporting" role, amber, a semi precious material from the Baltic sea has been finely carved in the shape of a stand, the two amber pieces equally rare in size and uniformity of color, an opaque honey gold upper component and a translucent reddish-brown amber base that rivals the best amber stems we have seen on the most artfully carved meerschaum pipe masterpieces.

The little girl posing for the carver is between six and nine years old,

Her necklace has an Iron Cross as a pendant.

Courtesy Private Collection

The Iron Cross was used as the symbol of the German Army from 1871 onward.

The military decoration called the Iron Cross first existed in the Kingdom of Prussia, and later in the German Empire. It was established by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia and first awarded on 10 March 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars. The recommissioned Iron Cross was also awarded during the Franco-Prussian War.

The Iron Cross was normally a military decoration only, though there were instances of it being awarded to civilians for performing military functions. 

So how could this little girl have such a privilege?

First, she had to be on the winning side of the Franco-Prussian wars.

The Franco–Prussian War or Franco–German War, or as the French refer to it, the War of 1870 (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871), was a dramatic conflict between the Second French Empire of Napoléon III and the Kingdom of Prussia, supported by its allies from the North German Confederation (of which it was a member) and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt.  

A series of swift Prussian and German victories in eastern France culminated in the Battle of Sedan, at which Napoleon III was captured with his whole army on 2 September.

Napoleon III surrenders his sword in Nancy, 1870

Yet this did not end the war, as the Third Republic was declared in Paris on 4 September 1870 and French resistance continued under the Government of National Defence and Adolphe Thiers.

Second, we would expect the medal to be worn by a child of nobility to whom this would have been of significance during the years that immediately followed the War of 1870.

Let us turn towards Prussia...

On 14 June 1870, Princess Sophie of Prussia was born in the Neues Palais (New Palace) in Potsdam, Prussia, to then Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia (later German Emperor).

Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia, Illustrated London News, August 20, 1870

and Victoria, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom

Victoria, Princess Royal (Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa; 21 November 1840 – 5 August 1901) was the eldest child of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert. She was created Princess Royal of the United Kingdom in 1841. She became German Empress and Queen of Prussia by marriage to German Emperor Frederick III. This portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter was made in 1867 when Princess Victoria was Crown Princess of Prussia, three years before the birth of Princess Sophie of Prussia.

herself the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort. 

Victoria's family in 1846 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter left to right: Prince Alfred and the Prince of Wales; the Queen and Prince Albert; Princesses Alice, Helena and Victoria.

Princess Sophie was christened in July 1870, though all the men present were in uniform, as Prussia had declared war on France. Sophie's mother described the event to Queen Victoria: 

 "The Christening went off well, but was sad and serious; anxious faces and tearful eyes, and a gloom and foreshadowing of all the misery in store spread a cloud over the ceremony, which should have been one of gladness and thanksgiving"

Crown Prince Frederick III in 1875

Frederick III, the proud father of Princess Margaret (left) and Princess Sophie (right) in 1876.             Princess Sophie is wearing a necklace with the Iron Cross...

Princess Sophie in 1877-78

 Emperor Friedrich III wearing a General`s Uniform with Decorations, 1880

Princess Sophie in 1885, Court Photographer

On March 9, 1888, Sophie's father, Frederick III, after 27 years as Crown Prince of Prussia, succeeded his father William I as King of Prussia and German Emperor.

Note the same use of two colors of amber in this exceptional Frederick III's Coronation Pipe.         Courtesy Science Museum London
According to the Science Museum London where this masterpiece resides, This wildly extravagant tobacco pipe shows the figures of Frederick III (1831-1888) Emperor of Germany, and his consort Victoria (1840-1901).The coat of arms is the Order of the Garter in England, an honor Frederick received at the time of his marriage. Measuring 345 mm in length. Courtesy Science Museum London

Could this extraordinary pipe and the statuette of Princess Sophie have been carved by the same meerschaum pipe carver and artist?


Unfortunately those were trying days for the imperial family as Frederick III was suffering from a debilitating disease. On June 15, 1888, the day after her eighteenth birthday celebration at the Neues Palais, her father, Emperor Frederick III, passed away. 

German Emperor Friedrich III of Germany - The End Of A Brave Life, published around 1888 in Puck (magazine), USA

During the difficult period that followed, Princess Sophie agreed to marry Crown Prince Constantine of Greece. Their marriage took place on 27 October 1889 in Athens, Greece.

Portrait of Sophie of Prussia (1870-1932), Queen of Greece,
Royalty Digest, late XIXth century

Portrait of Sophie of Prussia (1870-1932), Queen of Greece,
Royalty Digest, late XIXth century

Portrait of Sophie of Prussia (1870-1932), Queen of Greece, 1904, Athens

1 comment:

  1. This is an absolutely brilliant post! I have long-since considered the pipes you showcase as fine sculpture, now with this post, I am convinced of it! Thank you for sharing... lovely piece. How was it used?