Every object tells a story.
The Courtauld’s collection of 18th century silver is comprised of pieces designed and made by three generations of Courtauld silversmiths. They were the ancestors of Samuel Courtauld, one of the founders of The Courtauld Institute of Art.
Here are ten silver stories;
1. Following French Fashion
During the 18th century, grand-scale dining in England closely followed French fashion. Successive courses were brought to the table – up to eight in France, only three in England – and each required dozens of dishes. These were set out in strict symmetry in the centre of the table, and diners helped themselves to what was within reach.
2. Soups, Sauces and Sculpture
The popularity of new French foods such as soups and sauces required new shapes for serving dishes, such as the tureen and the sauceboat. This ornamented rococo tureen is a sculptural flight of fancy with naturalistic goats’ heads and delicately chased and chiselled flowers.
3. A Hallmark Moment
A hallmark is a stamp guaranteeing the quality of the silver alloy and is still used today. The word derives from Goldsmiths’ Hall in the City of London, where in the 18th century silver pieces were brought to be tested and stamped.
4. The Courtauld Women were fierce and successful in business
Louisa Courtauld, who ran the family business after her husband Samuel’s death in 1765, was one of a small number of successful women silversmiths in England at this time. Louisa Courtauld’s mark was an ‘LC’ set within a lozenge – the traditional shape for widows’ marks.
5. A Chemical Reaction
The primary purpose of this two-handed cup was to show off its owner’s status and wealth. It would have been displayed along with other family silver. It was made as a posthumous tribute to the founder of modern chemistry, Robert Boyle (1627-1691) – most famous for Boyle’s Law and for inventing the vacuum chamber.
6. Salt dishes
Like spices, pepper and mustard, salt was an essential condiment, and in formal table settings each diner would have had his or her own. The dolphin feet of these dainty salt dishes are suggestive of the sea, where salt originates.
7. Coffee vs Tea
In England tea drinking overtook coffee in popularity early in the 18th century. Reserved for affluent homes, tea was a luxury commodity. The Courtauld silversmiths specialised in domestic silver and benefited from this rise in tea-drinking. They were called upon to create an ever-increasing variety of shapes for tea canisters, caddies and sugar boxes.
8. Fox Mask Stirrup-cups
This kind of cup was used for drinking wine immediately before the start of the fox hunt. It was probably handed to a rider already mounted on a horse and with feet in stirrups, hence the cup’s name. Its shape was likely inspired by an Ancient Greek ceramic cup in the shape of a human or animal head, called a rhyton.
9. Under lock and tea
Tea was precious and expensive commodity and was kept locked in chests, and ever more beautiful ones were made for it. This one is covered in shagreen, leather made from shark skin, a highly fashionable material during this period.
10. Sugar and the Slave Trade
These objects are also part of the history of the slave trade, and the great profits to be made from it. Tea was imported into London by the English East India Company, and sugar from British plantations in the West Indies. The MP Charles Tudway, whose full length portrait by Gainsborough hangs in Room 4, made his fortune from sugar plantations in Antigua.
18th Century Silver, Collection | Tags: AkzoNobel, coffee, Decorative Arts, Huguenots, Rococo, salt, Silver, Silversmiths, sugar, tea | Leave a comment
Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator of Works on Paper
We’re used to thinking of prints as objects to be framed and admired on gallery walls, or kept in a portfolio and perused at leisure. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Prints have been put to many different, and sometimes surprising, uses over the centuries: they’ve been used as maps, playing cards, and, in the case of this superb etching by Jacques Callot, as fans.
Callot (1592-1635) hailed from Nancy, in eastern France, although he spent the first part of his career in Italy. One of the most accomplished and innovative printmakers of his age, he soon found employment in the Medici court in Florence, where Grand Duke Cosimo II commissioned him to record – and enhance – the extravagant festivals and pageants for which both court and city were renowned.
One of these festivals was a mock battle staged annually on an artificial island in the River Arno by the rival guilds of weavers and dyers. In 1619, Cosimo asked Callot to design a fan to commemorate the event – the etched design would be printed, then cut out and stuck down on board before being distributed to 500 lucky spectators. (A thousand impressions were printed, so a large number of impressions – including this one – were never actually cut out and transformed into fans.)
As is often the case with Callot’s prints, the pleasure is in the details. Hundreds of tiny figures, their elegant costumes meticulously recorded, are massed along the riverbank, and the bridges, the battle itself and the distant city are depicted with exquisite care.
Callot had initially trained as a goldsmith, something which no doubt honed his ability to render figures on a miniature scale – and it’s worth remembering that the two most time-honoured intaglio printmaking techniques, engraving and etching, both evolved from the goldsmith’s craft.
Callot embraced the freedom and ease of the etching technique (drawing a design with a needle on a wax-coated plate is much less laborious than painstakingly incising it) but he didn’t want to give up the elegance and control of the engraved line, which typically swells in the middle and tapers gracefully at each end.
He found the solution in a tool called an échoppe, whose oval head allowed him to achieve the same effect. You can see how skilfully he used the échoppe to achieve the swooping curves that form the borders of the fan.
One of the distinguishing features of many of Callot’s prints is their playfulness, and The Fan is no exception. On the curling scrolls that form the lower border are perched several small figures.
One of them, just right of centre, is glancing back over his shoulder and brandishing a fan. One of Callot’s?
Collection, Displays, Prints | Tags: Bruegel to Freud: Prints from the Courtauld Gallery, Fan, Jacques Callot, Print Collection, Rachel Sloan, Summer Showcase | Leave a comment
What do Christ ascending to heaven and a Parisian trapeze artist have in common?
Can you think of any other ‘suspended’ works in our collection?Collection | Tags: A bar at the Folies-Bergère, diptych, Ivory, Manet | Leave a comment