Marcus Heiden
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German Ivory Carver

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Heiden worked from 1618-1664 in Coburg, Germany. From 1618 to 1633, he worked for the Saxon Duke Johann Casimir at the court of Coburg where he produced many of the "Coburg Ivories." Little is known about Heiden except for what he wrote in his 1640 book, Beschreibung Eines Von Helfenbein Gedrehten Kunststicks, dedicated to Wilhelm IV Duke of Saxe-Weimar. In his book Heiden describes himself as a simple, religious man. Two of his friends, a rector and a pastor, confirm Heiden's great devoutness and his skill as a lathe-turner at the end of his book.

Ornamental Vases and Goblets, lathe-turned ivory, 1618-1664

Ornamental Vase, lathe-turned ivory, 17th century

Lathe-turning was invented in the fourteenth century and became popular as an art form during the seventeenth century. A more efficient machine lathe that used steel leaf springs for turning instead of poles, allowed the production of intricate, helical spirals, spheres-within-spheres, and other fantastical designs.

By the middle of the 17th century, lathe-turning had become a favorite pastime of the nobility. Experienced artists were connected to the royal workshops to instruct the nobility in the art of lathe-turning. Heiden, who was an experienced turner, was an instructor to various Saxon dukes.

The town of Coburg was on the transportation route for many combatants of the Thirty Years War. The town was sacked in 1632 and pillaged of many of its art objects. Ivory objects by Heiden were among those losses. In 1632, Heiden traveled to the court of Duke Casimir's brother, Duke Johann Ernst, in Eisenbach. When Ernst died in 1638, Heiden went to work as court turner to Wilhelm IV Duke of Saxe-Weimar.

Ornamental Drinking Goblet, lathe-turned ivory, 17th century, Museo degli Argenti

Ornamental Vases and Drinking Goblets, lathe-turned ivory, 17th century, Museo degli Argenti

Approximately 30 elaborate and delicate ivory objects were confiscated from Coburg as spoils of the Thirty Years War. Many of these were placed in the Florentine treasure house of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, now known as the Museo degli Argenti in Florence. These looted pieces are known as “The Coburg Ivories.”

Between 1637 and 1640, after so many of his works had been stolen, Heiden decided to make an ivory piece to be designated as an example. He explains the design of this sophisticated, ivory goblet, proceeded by an explanation and meaning of the piece in his 1640 book.

Ornamental Vase, lathe-turned ivory, 1618-1664

Ornamental Vase, lathe-turned ivory, 1618-1664

Heiden described his masterpiece as a drinking goblet poised on an elephant. This goblet is topped with a ship at full sail. Heiden mentions that the tusk used for this goblet was abnormally big and weighty, and that it was chosen from 300,000 tusks. An ornamental turned ivory vase by Heiden is now located at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

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Ornamental Covered Vase, lathe-turned ivory, 1631, 2'1" x 4 5/8 inch, The Getty Museum, Los Angeles