In our new series, Objects of Note, collectors and tastemakers spotlight objects of notable interest or importance. In the first of the series, antique dealer Laura Kugel - of the renowned Galerie Kugel in Paris - shares the story of a gilt-bronze noblewoman with a playful secret.



Gilt-bronze automaton, c.1600 © Galerie Kugel. Scroll down to see a video. 


When I have the opportunity to introduce newcomers to our gallery, I love to focus on an aspect too rarely associated with the decorative arts: good old fun.

Sure, we admire objects for their aesthetic allure, masterful craftsmanship, and the layered tales of their provenance, but it's quite another marvel to encounter a work of art – centuries old – that can elicit a genuine smile. There are a few candidates among the many objects we have on display, but one never fails to impress.

At a casual glance, this finely attired gilt-bronze noblewoman might be mistaken for a mere sculpture. Yet, a more intimate look unveils an amusing secret: she is, in fact, an automaton, her elegant skirt cleverly concealing a sophisticated mechanism.


Gilt-bronze automaton, c.1600 © Galerie Kugel. Scroll down to see a video.  


Set her upon a flat surface, and watch as she propels forward, pausing just at the table's edge - a feat that, while reliable, never fails to startle me slightly. The privileged guest sitting closest must then gently lift her bust, unveiling a drink hidden in her gown that doubles as a cup. That’s right, this is actually a drinking game, ingeniously crafted four centuries ago, and marvelously operational to this day.

Automaton figures such as these surged in popularity during the Renaissance, fueled by technical advancements in horology that paved the way for creating small-scale mechanical marvels. As much as automata mesmerize us today, try to imagine the sheer wonder they must have sparked in 16th century collectors and how astonished they must have felt observing these moving artworks.

And since actions speak louder than words, should you find yourself wandering the halls of TEFAF Maastricht over the next few days, I warmly invite you to come meet my captivating lady-in-waiting-for-a-drink, and witness it for yourself.

- - - - - - - - - -

TEFAF Maastricht

Galerie Kugel will be exhibiting at TEFAF (The European Fine Art Foundation), which runs 9-14 March in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Discover our insider's guide: A Weekend in Maastricht

Join the Cabana family