Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Home Beautiful: The Neptune Candelabra, 1818-1820

Silver, 1818-1820
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the early Nineteenth Century, a common theme in plate and in table ornament was the theme of the sea—personified by the Roman sea god, Neptune. For the English, Neptune represented the source not only of the fish and seafood which comprised many of their meals, but also of salt—a precious commodity indeed.

One of the ways by which an aristocratic family would show their social position and wealth was by adorning their tables with the finest silver, plate and china. Here’s one example of the type of adornment which would have graced a noble dining room.

Modeled with a figure of Neptune kneeling on a sea horse (or “hippocamp”) on a rocky base, this magnificent candelabrum is cast and chased with shells, seaweed and sea creatures. As he often does, Neptune holds a trident in his left hand and, in his right, presents a shell from which a hydra (the mythical multi-headed snake) springs. The hydra’s heads form the branches of the candelabrum.

This was part of a massive table garniture ordered by the then Duke of York—Prince Frederick (second son of King George III and brother of the future King George IV. Frederick would die before his elder brother, thus allowing his younger brother, to become King William IV when George IV died without legitimate heirs*). Upon his early death, the catalog of the sale of the Duke of York’s silver shows that this candelabrum is attributed to the antiquarian and silver retailer Kensington Lewis, who promoted himself with great pride as “Silversmith and Jeweller to his R. H. the Duke of York.” This candelabrum bears the mark of artist Edward Farrell, a silversmith who worked with Kensington Lewis between 1816 until the mid-1830s.

*In keeping with “family tradition” of lots of illegitimate children from the progeny of George III, King William IV also died without legitimate issue and the Crown, upon William’s death, was passed to the eldest child of his younger brother, Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent. This, of course, was Queen Victoria who, as we know, did her best to put the Royal Family back in order.

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