Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mastery of Design: The Jeweled Ivory Cup of King George IV

Ivory, Silver Gilt and Jeweled Cup
Belonged to King George IV
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Here’s one of the stars of The Royal Collection. This jeweled ivory cup is known by the curators of the collection as “The Brain,” since…well, it looks a bit like a brain. This was one of the many treasure collected by the oddly opulent King George IV whose taste for just about everything drained the Royal coffers.

Made in South Germany (or, some say, Austria), when the ceremonial cup was first purchased by George IV, it was a work of carved ivory mounted in gilt silver. As grand as it was, it wasn’t special enough for Georgie who had the emeralds, rubies and turquoises added just to make it a little shinier.

The carved, lobed ivory cup and cover is surmounted by a finial carved with a figure of Diana Goddess of the Hunt. She’s holding a spear and has her trusty hunting hound beside her. Sleeping hunters and animals (hares, hounds and boars) surround her and the reeded silver band.

The applied ivy leaves were mounted with the rubies, emeralds and turquoises which reflect the carved, high relief scenes around the sides of the cup. The bowl is supported on a stem carved as Hercules on a domed rocky base—surrounded by a silver-gilt border and similar rim of jeweled ivy leaves.

When the cup first arrived in England—long before being purchased by George IV (it changed hands several times before George got a hold of it), its appearance was so astounding that it was mentioned in the “Morning Post and Daily Advertiser” which noted:

RECENTLY brought from Vienna, and added to the Museum, an inconceivably beautiful effort of art.... consisting of a cup or vessel carved in ivory; the figure of Hercules dressed in the skin of the Nemean lion forms the handle or stem.

History's Runway: The Lady Cowdray Mantua Gown, 1740-1746

This and all related images from The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the Seventeenth Century, a “mantua” was, ostensibly, a loose gown. As the decades passed, the garment became more stylized and, but the mid Eighteenth Century, the term “mantua” referred to an over-gown or robe which was worn over stays, heavy petticoats and stomachers. The mantua was, by this time, essentially worn in the Royal Court. Examples from the Eighteenth Century, such as the one we see here, show that these over-gowns were often extremely overdone and proportioned almost ridiculously. Still, they were the height of elegance and were truly the most fashionable article a woman could wear in the French and English Royal Courts.

Let’s examine this example of a mantua from the V&A. This would have been worn by a woman of aristocratic birth to show the Royal Family that her own family also possessed maximum wealth and and understanding of the fashionable arts. The opulence of a lady’s mantua was a direct indication of her family’s rank, power and financial standing.

This example contains almost ten pounds of weight from silver thread alone. The silver has been worked into an elaborate “Tree of Life” design. The train is signed “Rec'd of Mdme Leconte by me Magd. Giles.” “Leconte” is a name long associated with Huguenot embroideresses working in London between 1710 and 1746.

The mantua is composed of the over-gown, petticoat and fabric stomacher—all made of silk embroidered with real silver thread. Evidence of colored silk thread beneath the silver indicates that the textile was changed midway through in order to introduce the more aristocratic element of precious metals. Seven breadths of the textile create the wide skirt which, at its widest point is six feet across, filled out by a series of side hoops.

The gown has been altered. In the 1920s, the back seams were repeatedly taken in and let out in order to adapt the mantua for use as a fancy dress costume. Upon acceptance to the V&A, the mantua was relined and the damage from these Twentieth Century alterations was repaired.

The Home Beautiful: King James II’s Coronation Cup, 1685

Cup and Cover
Made from Silver from the Coronation of James II, 1685
The Victoria & Albert Museum

We’ve seen a lot of Coronation Cups here at Stalking the Belle Époque from the commemorative cups in my own collection of Royal memorabilia to the similar items which are housed in the Royal Collection and the V&A, but we’ve never seen one like this.

This magnificent silver-gilt cup and cover were made from silver that was reclaimed from the precious metal which originally decorated the canopies used during King James II's coronation in 1685. After the ceremony, the silver was divided amongst the barons who carried the canopies which covered James II during the coronation.

Two of the barons (from the same family)--Cresheld Draper, MP for Winchelsea and Gawden Draper--combined their share of the coronati0n silver to make this commemorative cup which has been chased and engraved with stylized scenes from the coronation depicting, especially, the barons carrying one of the canopies. This was a clever way to commemorate the participation of the Draper family in the event.

The four figures carrying the canopy are rendered in the fashionable chinoiserie style. These figures are flat-chased on one side and commemorate the original use of the silver. The family’s coat of arms and an inscription in Latin explain the scene.

The Latin inscription reads “Hoc obtinui Ex in aug: Iac: 2.d Et Mar: Ap:23.85” which translates as “I obtained this from the Coronation of James II and Mary, April 23 1685.”

The Home Beautiful: A Magnificent Enameled Presentation Box and Champagne Flute 17th-20th C.

Champagne Glass and Presentation Case
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click on image for larger size.

From the Royal Collection, we have this silver and blue enamel Art Deco pentagonal presentation box.  The two hinged front doors open to reveal a magnificent champagne glass on a silver stand.  Across the bottom of both doors and the silver stand, gilt metal plaques boast a continuous inscription which reads:


The entire box fits into a red leather carry case designed and made by Hermès.

This late seventeenth-century lobed drinking glass with splayed rim sits upon a baluster stem and a circular and spirally-molded foot.

As impressive as this important glass is, the Art Deco presentation case is equally important.

Enameler Jean Goulden (1878-1946) was commissioned to create the case by the large Champagne houses (Reims and Épernay), grape growers, cork makers and glass makers, after the ;eague had collectively purchased the champagne glass in London on November 6, 1934 from the collection of Grant R. Francis, who was known as one of the most important glass collectors of the twentieth century. 

Goulden's original designs for the casket exist in the collection of his son.  The artist had originally studied medecine and art in Paris before becoming a major-doctor during the first world war,  being stationed in Macedonia where he remained for some time as the guest of the monks' communities of the Mont of Athos.  There, he studied Byzantine enamels in the company of Paul Jouve (1880-1973). 

When Goulden returned to France, he joined Jean Dunard (1877-1942) who introduced him to the champlevé enameling technique.  Known for their fineness and rarity, Goulden's works are considered the best of the era and he is considered important in the development of the Art Deco style in the decorative arts.  His work is characterized by stong black lines and bright colors, and the use of a geometric or cubist style.

Style Starters: Liberty's of London Peacock Fabric, 1887

Roller Printed
Designed by Arthur Silver for Liberty's of London, 1887
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here, we see a textile sample from a roller-printed cotton which was used for furnishings, as curtains or upholstery. The brilliantly colored tail feathers of peacocks were very popular motifs with designers of the Aesthetic Movement. In addition to being a popular theme in textiles both for home and fashion, the feathers themselves were often used in the home—placed in vases and containers to add rich color to any space.  That’s a trick that I use around my own 1890s home and I must say it’s an elegant addition to a room.

This pattern was drawn in 1887 by Arthur Silver who set up the Silver Studio at Brook Green in 1880, later moving to Haarlem Road, Hammersmith, London. The Silver Studio was renowned for its designs and supplies them to a host of high-end retailers.

This particular textile was originally sold through Liberty's on Regent Street, London.  Liberty’s notably helped proliferate the Aesthetic style in England. This pattern was resurrected for the V&A's Liberty exhibition in 1975 and has since become almost a trademark for the company.

Reverse of the fabric.

Precious Time: The Lilies Lantern Clock, 1650

Lantern Clock of Silver
David Bouquet, 1650
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Lantern clocks such as the one pictured here were first developed in England in the 1620s. The name “lantern” is thought to have come from the word “laton” - meaning brass - as most of these timepieces featured brass cases.

These clocks were always driven by weights and were made to stand on a bracket or to hang on the wall.

This clock is exceptional in that it is the only known lantern clock with a silver, and not brass, case. The dial plate, chapter ring, alarm disc, side doors and pierced silver gallery are all comprised  of silver. Because of the unusual medium, we can only assume that this clock was a special commission for a wealthy patron from David Bouquet, a French immigrant who was admitted to the Blacksmiths' Company in 1628.  Bouquet joined the Clockmakers' Company as a founding member in 1632.  He was known for his fine engraving—work which we can see nicely here.  The front of the clock is engraved with pinks, tulips, lilies and other flowers.  Meanwhile,  above, an openwork gallery is surmounted by pierced floral crestings with vases at the corners.

The clock dates to about 1650.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Sheffield Silver Salver, 18th Century

Click on image to enlarge.

Silver Salver
Sheffield, 1740-1780
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the Eighteenth Century, small silver salvers (wee trays with no handles) were used for a variety of purposes such as presenting a glass or small object to the master of the house. However, by the mid Eighteenth Century, salvers were mostly used to carry letters, cards or newspapers. For a servant to hand something directly to the master of the house was considered very bad form, so, the silver salver served as a handy go-between.

Salvers were usually round or slightly oval. Every so often, they were made in a square or polygonal form, often with rounded corners. They, more often than not, featured little silver feeties upon which the tray could rest when left upon a flat surface such as a center table or sideboard.

This circular example with three feet is made in Sheffield plate—coated with silver on both sides, but with the upper layer being thicker to better withstand the wear that the top of the object would receive. Furthermore, thicker silver on the top surface allowed sufficient material for a coat of arms or monogram to be engraved without exposing the base metal of the copper core. Such salvers were typically engraved. This one, for example, has been adorned with a coat of arms and branches of laurel and palm. This salver is an excellent example of the type of salvers made in Sheffield between 1740 and 1780.