Sunday, February 23, 2014

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Crayfish Salt Cellar, 1752

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The artifact itself, a salt cellar, is certainly not unusual, however, the form it takes is quite rare and unique. This salt cellar is crafted in the form of a crayfish, rocks and shells. Made of soft-paste porcelain, the crayfish is modeled and colored a naturalistic taupe while the shells and rocks are colored white, mauve, red, green and coral.

Salt cellars served both a useful and ornamental purpose, but also a symbolic one. Refined salt was quite a commodity and was placed in a vessel befitting its importance. The cellar was placed at the head of the table close to the head of the household. As I've mentioned before, persons seated nearest the salt cellar, “above the salt,” were the most honored guests at the table. From the medieval period until the Seventeenth Century, salt cellars were highly decorative, but by the Eighteenth Century, this practice had begun to be observed only in the wealthiest households who could afford the precious metals used for these opulent containers.

This cellar was made in 1752 and is unusually decorative for the date, especially for one made from porcelain. This is the work of Nicholas Sprimont (1716-1771) who made crayfish salts in silver before founding the celebrated, high-end Chelsea porcelain factory. A similar set of salts was made between 1742-1743, for a marine-themed table setting commissioned by Frederick, Prince of Wales.

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