Peter Finer

A Finely Carved Austrian-Bohemian Hunting Horn, c. 1850

Item Ref: 2075 Price on application

2075 2
2075 3

Austrian Empire. Wood, silver and silk.


Private collection, Portugal

Our beautifully carved hunting horn would once have formed part of the ceremonial hunting dress of a wealthy continental European sportsman and it may have been carved, or decorated, en suite with other items that he would have worn, and perhaps also purchased, at the same time. As the retailer’s name on our horn’s collar indicates, it was made in the Prague studio of the famous Bohemian gun-maker Anton Vinzent Lebeda (1797–1857). Lebeda was apprenticed in Prague, completing his apprenticeship in 1813 and becoming a master gunsmith in 1822. In due course, his two sons, Anton (1823–60) and Ferdinand (1824–89) joined him in the business, from which he retired in 1854, the business continuing in Ferdinand’s hands until 1889. In 1852, in reflection of his standing as a gun-maker of the highest quality in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Lebeda was appointed gun-maker to the Imperial Court of the Emperor Franz-Joseph – himself an active and avid sportsman. Lebeda made guns and sporting equipment for British and European royalty and aristocracy and examples of his work are in many public collections worldwide; we have been privileged occasionally to offer items from this famous Bohemian gun-maker.

The scene that so finely decorates the wooden body of our horn is taken from the folk tale Reineke Fuchs (Reynard the Fox), a tale current throughout northern Europe from the twelfth century and thought, perhaps, to originate in Flanders. It first appeared in print, in verse, in a Dutch edition, printed in Gouda in 1479. Caxton’s English translation, published in 1481, was one of the first printed books produced in England, the first German edition being printed in Lübeck in 1498. The tale is one in which animals are given human characteristics and in which human foibles are transferred to the ‘animal kingdom’. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) published his verse adaptation of Reineke Fuchs in 1793, at a time when human frailties were widely exposed in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the beginning of what was to be two decades of war, and it was widely hailed as a triumph. In 1846, it was republished in quarto format by Cotta of Stuttgart and illustrated with engravings by the Munich engraver Adrien Schleich (1812–94) that were drawn from specially commissioned artwork by the artist Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1804–74); this edition was so successful that it was republished by Cotta in 1857 in octavo and translated into English by Thomas James Arnold (1803–77) in an edition published in London in 1860. Our horn’s carving is based upon the Schleich engraving after von Kaulbach that appeared in the 1846 edition and it is this that enables us confidently to date our horn to approximately 1850.

In the scene depicted on our horn, Reynard the Fox is about to be hanged for his numerous crimes against most of the rest of the animal kingdom, he having been sentenced to death by the Lion, who – although king of the beasts – is not that intelligent. Reynard’s particular foes are Isegrim, the wolf, who can be seen at the foot of the ladder ready to kick it away and launch Reynard into eternity, Bruin the bear, equipped with a halberd and holding the ropes tying Reynard’s hands, and Tybault the cat (from whose name is drawn the popular pet cat’s name ‘Tibby’), who is securing Reynard’s noose to the branch of the tree. All three of Reynard’s particular enemies are anxious to see him ‘turned off’ but, in the scene depicted, Reynard is astonishing the Lion by telling him of a plot against his life that he, Reynard, recently thwarted and which involved a quantity of buried treasure – the location of which Reynard can, of course, reveal if spared. Predictably, the Lion is convinced of Reynard’s worth and so spares his life, an action that appals most of the rest of the animals. Ultimately, Reynard sees the error of his ways but remains, characteristically, duplicitous and clever – thus fulfilling the traditional character ascribed by humans to foxes. In the absence of other examples of gun-maker’s work reflective of the tale of Reinecke Fuchs, we cannot be sure of the extent to which von Kaulbach’s engravings were used in the decoration of sporting guns and their accessories. However, there is a long tradition in continental Europe of the accessories for sporting guns, particularly powder flasks, being decorated with scenes reflective of tales, myths and legends and so our horn, made at a time when powder flasks were decreasing in use in the sporting field through the increased use of cartridges, may be seen as a continuation of that tradition for a sporting society in which personal appearance was every bit as important as sporting skill.

Heer, E., Der Neue Støckel, Schwäbisch Hall, 1978, vol. I, p. 690

Deeply and richly carved from a single piece of fruit wood and mounted in German silver at both ends, the end for the mouth fitted with a horn-mounted reed and the collar engraved Sculptor Atelier des A.V. Lebeda Sohn in Prag. The carving depicting a scene from the edition of Goethe’s Reineke Fuchs published in 1846 and the body of the horn fitted with two loose rings through which passes a narrow corded silk carrying strap with tasselled ends.

Size: Length 22 cm / 8.7 in, Width 8.5 cm / 3.3 in, narrowing to 2.3 cm / 0.9 in