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.