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Wooden Box Embellished by the Bohemian “Robin Hood”

Hand-made wooden box with straw inlay work by the legendary Bohemian robber and folkloric hero Václav Babinský.

Špilberk Castle, Brno: between 1841 and 1855. Wooden box, measuring 27 × 18.5 × 10 cm. A contemporary manuscript paper ticket (3 × 7 cm), mounted to interior of lid, reads: “Eine Sträflings-Arbeit von dem berühmten Räuber Babinskӱ (früher Wachtmeister bei den Uhlanen) verfertigt. Er wurde wegen seinen Mordthaten und Grausamkeit zur lebenslänglichen Kerkerhaft auf den Spielberg zu Brünn verurtheilt, wo ich ihn 1850 sah" [A work of convict labor by the famous robber Babinskӱ, former sergeant with the Uhlans. For his murderous deeds and cruelties he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Špilberk Castle in Brno, where I saw him in 1850]. Upper lid with old restoration across center; the inlay work occasionally retouched; the decorative paper somewhat discolored; overall still very well-preserved.

Babinský (German: Wenzel Babinsky, 1796–1879) was a Czech thief and professional robber and highwayman, who orchestrated numerous crimes starting in the 1820s with a small gang that included his lover Apolena Hoffmann. He committed murder at least once, during an 1833 robbery. After evading justice numerous times, including after an 1832 arrest after two guns fell out of Apolena's skirt, he was sentenced to a twenty-year hard labor sentence in 1840, which he served in Brno's Špilberk Fortress and later Valdice, before being released in 1861 (Apolena died shortly after being sentenced to twelve years in jail). Already during his own lifetime, Babinský captured the imagination of Czech late Romantic writers and went on to enjoy an interesting literary afterlife that even extended to German twentieth-century letters. Soon after his release, František Hais and others authored pamphlets entitled "Babinsky lives," and various semi-fictional tales and ballads circulated since then, both as broadsides and cheap popular pamphlets. Babinský, who lived out a quiet life as a gardener on the outskirts after his term, was known to frequent Prague's pubs and willing to tell his stories in exchange for a drink. He was idealized by some as a kind of Bohemian Robin Hood, although there is little evidence that he gave to the poor. Notably, Babinsky also makes an appearance in numerous later German-language works, such as Gustav Meyrink's "Golem" and Egon Erwin Kisch's "Marktplatz der Sensationen." The present work was acquired by an unidentified party, whose mounted manuscript note testifies to having seen Babinský at Špilberk. The fine straw marquetry, applied to all four sides and the lid of the box, depicts a pastoral scene as well as various floral ornaments. The interior is covered with mid-nineteenth century decorated paper. References: Joep Leersen et al, "The Rural Outlaws of East-Central Europe," in History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe, 2004.

Book ID: 50069

Price: $4,500.00