Lapis lazuli. Koksha Valley, Afghanistan. Before 1736.
This lapis lazuli snuffbox was made prior to 1736 and was owned by the celebrated Austrian general Prince Eugene of Savoy.
Eugene Franz, Prince of Savoy-Carignan – better known under the name of Prince Eugene – was one of the most famous generals of the House of Austria, and from 1697 supreme commander in the Great Turkish War. He was regarded as the wealthiest man of his time and as a generous patron of the arts and science – an image which he skilfully and indefatigably cultivated. Snuffboxes were popular gifts at this time, and, according to contemporary reports, the prince had a liking for snuff tobacco.
Lapis lazuli is one of the oldest known ornamental stones. Its intensive blue color was greatly valued even in Antiquity, and Pliny the Elder compared it to “a fragment of the firmament strewn with stars”. The stone has been mined for more than 7,000 years and its history is linked almost entirely to the mines in the remote Koksha Valley in Afghanistan. The darker, more intensive and uniform its color, the more valuable the stone is.
This lapis lazuli snuffbox reached the imperial and royal natural history cabinet in Vienna in 1821 thanks to a bequest of privy lord chancellor Friedrich von Hoppe, a senior civil servant in the monarchy and a passionate collector of jewels and precious stones.
The hallmarks with which goldsmiths and workshops perpetuated themselves in their masterpieces are often a great help in dating such objects and determining their origin. Unfortunately there is only very little written documentation on 18th-century snuffboxes. This is why we know only that the two As on the inside frame of Prince Eugene’s tobacco snuffbox were applied at a later date in 1806. So far it has not been possible to attribute the letters HZ, W, and GZ behind the clasp to any goldsmith.