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.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mastery of Design: The Dame Joan Evans Rock Crystal Pendant, 1650-75

Pendant of Enameled Silver and Foiled Crystal Pendant
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This handsome pendant from the important collection of jewels amassed by Dame Joan Evans is composed of rock crystal triplets (two layers of stone with a layer of red-colored foil material between), rock crystal and glass.  The stones are set in enameled silver.

The piece was made in Western Europe between 1650 and 1675.  

Gifts of Grandeur: Painted Silk Velvet Panels from a Reticule, 1820-1830

Silk Velvet Panel
England, 1820-1830
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painted between 1820 and 1830, these silk velvet panels were intended to be used in the construction of a reticule (also known as “indispensibles”). Ostensibly purses, reticules were used in the early Nineteenth Century by women to carry necessities such as smelling salts and a handkerchief. A lady might often make and decorate her own reticule at home using a store-bought lightweight frame of silver or steal with chain handles.

Amateur artists often painted onto silk velvet pieces which could be incorporated into a variety of projects. The painted velvet, owing to the pile of the fabric, afforded an appealing sense of depth and richness. It was also an interesting visual counterpoint to the preferred method of the Eighteenth Century—painting on silk taffeta.

These panels were surely painted at home by a now unknown lady. Both show a lively scene of flowers and butterflies against a ground of gold silk velvet. The shape suggests that they were meant to be sewn onto a reticule frame, but, it somehow never made it. Perhaps they are preserved because of it.

History's Runway: An Ivory Button Painted with a Butterfly, 1880

Painted Ivory Button
India, 1880
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here we see the first of a set of twenty-six buttons which were painted with an image of a butterfly. Made in India about 1880, for an ivory button like this to be painted with a naturalistic subject is quite unusual for the time. Most often, Delhi miniatures like this were painted with scenes of Indian monuments and portraits of Mughal emperors.

The painting is preserved under a glass disk which would have prevented wear to the image as the button was used.

Antique Image of the Day: Girl with a Fan, 1864

Girl with a Fan, 1864
William Dobson
Watercolor and gouache.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Influenced by the tastes and styles of their Queen, the Victorian public preferred idealized portraits of young girls.  Such depictions arose beginning with Queen Victoria's reign as the fresh-faced young woman took the throne.  Since the queen was an attractive young lady, similarly innocent faces became the subject of oil paintings, watercolors and prints of all kinds.

This painting by William Charles Thomas Dobson (RA, RWS, 1817-1898) is rendered in watercolor and gouache.  It  was described in the words of a contemporary as having “a roundness and sweetness which is never sensual.”

William Dobson began his career as a prolific painter of religious themes.  His greatest hope was to revive popular interest religious art.  Nevertheless, the audience was limited and Dobson went on to paint less ponderous subjects like this attractive picture.  Dobson often peppered his works with a stylized orientalism which successfully increased their public appeal.  From 1842 until 1894 he exhibited many paintings in this style at the Royal Academy.

Here, we see Dobson’s rather inaccurate depiction of an Asian girl in a turban and a striped silk brocade robe.  It was painted in 1864, not from life, but in his studio, using props which Dobson thought would seem authentically Asian.

Painting of the Day: A Portrait of Mary Stuart, 1804

Mary Stuart
Denis Brownell Murphy, 1804
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Mary Stuart (1542-87) succeeded to the Scottish throne in 1542. She was only six days old at the time. Mary’s life wasn’t a whole lot of fun after that. She had some family issues, you could say. She had a rocky relationship with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, and, also had some troubles with her husband for the one year that she was Queen Consort of France. Battles for the Scottish throne forced Mary flee to England in 1568. She had asked Elizabeth I for sanctuary and Elizabeth said, “Sure, honey. Come on over.” But, you see, Mary had already claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own, so by the time she asked to “crash on Elizabeth’s couch,” Elizabeth was thinking that perhaps her cousin was a threat. So, by the time Mary arrived in England, she was effectively a prisoner of the English Queen. This ended with Mary being was executed in 1587, having been found guilty of plotting to overthrow Elizabeth.

Good times. 

This attractive enamel miniature depicts Mary Stuart—centuries after her death. It was made during a time in the Nineteenth Century when artists and jewelers were combining their skills and remembering the Seventeenth Century notion that enamel lasted much longer, and without fading, than oil paint. It’s the work of Denis Brownell Murphy who painted a series of images illustrating the lineage of the House of Stuart, beginning with Mary Queen of Scots. Mary is shown wearing a red embroidered dress with a high ruff, a gold cap and a cross at her neck. The frame is papier-mâché with ormolu mounts formed to resemble shells and a crown.

Precious Time: A Cabinet Clock from Augsburg, 1700-1725

Cabinet Clock
Augsburg (Made)
Meissen (Tea Set, Made)
This and all related images courtesy of
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This artful arrangement of wood, boulle marquetry, tortoiseshell, silver, silver-gilt, inlaid mother-of-pearl, ivory, enamel, brass, pietre dure, faceted garnets, turquoise, micromosaic, velvet, porcelain, mirrored glass, gilt bronze, and oil paint on copper sheeting makes for one very involved, brilliant timepiece.

This monumental cabinet clock comes from Augsburg. Both Augsburg and Nuremberg were hubs of important clock making from the 1650 through 1750. Master craftsmen from a variety of media would join forces to create majestic and unusual cases for the clock. This, surely, is one of the finest examples of their capabilities.

Truly extraordinary, this cabinet clock is comprises of nearly twenty costly different materials. Coupled with the high cost of labor for such a piece, surely this was a royal or, at least, noble commission. We don’t know for whom the clock was originally produced, however, the curators at the V&A have determined that this was the same clock that once belonged to Lord Rosebery, British Prime Minister from 1894-5, as evidenced by photographs of the Lord from that time period (see the black and white picture detail below).

Though the clock is certainly interesting in all that’s apparent, from the little Buddha figures to the impressive inlay-work, it also contains some hidden treasures which aren’t immediately seen. For example, a neatly in-set drawer contains a Meissen tea set in a pattern which matches the clock as well as a silver picture frame.

This was a gift to the V&A from Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde—two of the world's foremost decorative arts collectors, and was included in their 1996 bequest of silver, mosaics, enameled portrait miniatures and gold boxes.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Tombeau de Lipsius. Pyramide. Chefren. 1880-1890

Click on image to enlarge
"Tombeau de Lipsius"
Pierre Henri Theodore Tetar van Elven
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painted in Egypt between 1880 and 1890 by the monumentally-named Pierre Henri Theodore Tetar van Elven (1828-1908), this work of watercolor over pencil is accented with white oil paint.

Titled, “Tombeau de Lipsius,” the image actually depicts a scene from Giza of the Pyramid of Khufu. Such a painting would have satisfied the growing desire for exotic images of Egypt which developed from late Nineteenth Century archaeological finds.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mastery of Design: A Snuffbox Commemorating the 1911 Coronation

Garrard & Co.
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

From the archives of The Royal Collection, we have this important snuffbox of gold, enamel and diamonds by Sebastian Henry Garrard (of Garrard's, as one would guess).  The snuffbox, boasting watercolor on ivory portraits of King George V and Queen Mary, was made in 1911 expressly for the coronation.  

But, it gets better.  The piece was later engraved, on the inside of the gold lid, per Queen Mary's instructions and presented by Her majesty upon the day of the coronation of her son, "Bertie," (better known to us as King George VI) in 1937.  Following the whole "Abdication Kerfuffle" (TM), I'm sure Mary was relieved to have Bertie on the throne and happily presented this handsome present to her Number 2 son.  The 1937 engraving reads:

King George VI. 
in remembrance of his Coronation, 
from his devoted Mother, 
Mary R
May 12th 1937.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The hinged, oval, gold and enamel box features a lid inset with glazed oval miniatures of Their Majesties, framed with rose cut diamonds, surmounted by a diamond and enamel crown, and with a diamond-set monogram below.  Queen Mary is depicted in a white gown with Garter, and her favorite pearls.  George V is shown, facing slight left in his uniform, Garter and assorted medals and orders.

Each side of the box is dazzling as the sides are alive with blue enamel with borders of white and green foliage and flower-heads.  The reverse, or underside, shows masterful engine turning applied with a silver and enamel Garter star. 

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Unusual Artifacts: The Angel Chalice, c. 1905

"The Angel Chalice"
Phoebe and Ramsay Traquair with J.M. Talbot
Scotland, 1905
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Edinburgh, Scotland around 1905, this cup is constructed of an abalone shell mounted in silver and decorated with enamel. A pierced silver foliate border adorns the rim of the cup which is supported on three, sculptural wires which terminate in moonstone mounts at the rim. Mounts of enamel mimicking cabochon-cut gems adorn the junctions of the supporting wire frames which hold enamel paintings of angels with musical instruments. The monogram “PT” is visible on one of these three triangular panels.

This chalice is the work of Edinburgh artist and jeweler Phoebe Traquair (1852-1936) whose celebrated enamel work is praised to this day. Phoebe’s husband, Ramsay, assisted on the design and the physical work was carried out by their frequent assistant J.M. Talbot. It’s the first, and finest, of a series of five chalices set with shells designed by Ramsay and Phoebe Traquair, and crafted by Talbot.

Masterpiece of the Day: The Falize Cloisonné Necklace, 1867

Enamel Necklace
In the Japanese Style
Alexis Falize
France, 1867
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the 1860’s, Parisian jewelers became enamored of the Japanese style and tried to replicate Asian enamels. Prior to the 1850s, and since the 1820’s, Japanese style was barely recognized in Paris. However, the Japanese Court at the London Exhibition of 1862 and similar displays at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867 caused quite a stir amongst the artistic community. Designers of all types were inspired by what they had seen.

This is a great example of the intricate technique of costly cloisonné enamel wherein the precise outlines of the design are the result of the tiny 'cloisons' or cells that hold the enamel and which have to be individually shaped from thin gold strips. The flower and bird motifs that we see in this 1867 example by Alexis Falize (1811-1898) are taken from Japanese prints, although the vibrant shades show the influence of Chinese work. The necklace of cloisonné enamel and gold shows Alexis Falize’s expert eye as well as the skill of Falize’s chief enameller, Antoine Tard. The circlet is made up of ten long panels of enameled gold which are punctuated with gold rosettes. Five circular pendants hang from the lower edge of the piece. 

History's Runway: An Enamel and Ruby Bow, circa 1600

Enamel, Rubies, Pearl, Gold
The Victoria and Albert Museum

Little is known about this beautiful little bow. It was made somewhere in Europe between 1600 and 1660. A masterpiece of enamel work, the bow is beautiful from both sides. The front of the piece is set with sparking rubies in gold mounts while the reverse is hand-painted with enamel flowers.

Throughout its life the bow has been worn as both a pendant and a brooch. The dangling pearl at the bottom may be a later addition.