pátek 31. července 2015

Silver In The Age Of Castles - Zámecké Stříbro I

Silver on the table has always been a mark of class and wealth. Even today it still conjures up images of glimmering dining tables and candlelight being bouncing off the polished metal. The heyday of table silver was the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Here it is pretty unusual today to come across silver being used on a regular basis and when one does encounter it, it is usually cutlery sets that have been passed down from the prewar generations and are only used on very special occasions such as Christmas Eve. It even has a slightly nouveau riche cachet about it.

Nautilius Cup Eucharius Riber, Breslau,Poland,16th  cent.
State Castle Telč
Image courtesy of Galerie České spořitelny
 Till the end of August the Galerie České spořitelny in Rytířská is displaying silver objects mostly from aristocratic holdings but some meant for domestic use. Much of what is being shown is from aristocratic collections but it is still an interesting glimpse back into history. The gallery which has regular exhibitions frequently works with Czech museums to bring a wide spectrum of art to the public for free .This might be a loose continuation to an earlier exhibition which explored the relationship between Venetian and Bohemian crystal.
Image courtesy of Galerie České spořitelny

Surpassingly in the Middle Ages, Bohemia was one of the main sources of silver mining in Europe during the rule of Rudolf II. The most notable mines were in Kutná Hora and the later infamous Jáchymov. With the Spanish colonization of South America, Peru became a major player as the European market for luxuries flourished. At this period silver was still mainly used to mint coins therefore serving as currency, a function that would prevail into the 19th century. War, politics and religion have all had a major impact on the history of table silver especially on that of the aristocracy. Silver was often melted down in times of war or financial crisis to provide funding.

Silver parcel guilt wedding cup German,
State Castle Hluboká nad Vltavou
In the UK it was the expulsion of the Huguenots from France at the end of the 17th and revoking of the Edict of Nantes that brought a flood of highly skilled silversmiths to London. Silversmiths such as Paul Crespin, David Willaume , Paul Lamerie or Simon Pantin  brought refinement to British silver. Their pieces still fetch huge sums of money today.

George II Silver Coffee Pot - Paul de Lamerie, 1738

There were a number of very important factors that contributed to growth of table silver from the 17th to 19th century.The first was the fact that dining and banquets were an important  part of politics and business .Dinners were the ideal way to “network” while negotiating affairs of state or commerce. Although restaurants in the modern sense emerged after the French revolution it was only at the end of the 19th century that they were deemed respectable. Domestic entertaining was therefore almost the only means of socializing namely when both sexes were concerned. Women, who were historically relegated more to the hearth were viewed as indecent if seen alone in public without a chaperone. In fact most restaurants did not even allow female customers.

Table ” à la française”             
Image courtesy of http://www.art-service.de

The  baroque and then rococo aesthetic was also an ideal form for silver decorating as silver objects are valued for their weight but also often for the workmanship on them. The ornate putti, shells or a coat of arms favored in the previous centuries made silver the ideal material of expression.

Chalice in the form of a stag with detachable head, 17th cent.
State Castle Hluboká nad Vltavou
Image courtesy of Galerie České spořitelny
The 18th century fashion of serving food” à la française” where guests entered a dining table that was already laid with all the dishes that were to be eaten meant that there was a need for numerous silver dishes if they host could afford them .This way diners were awed by a table groaning with food and lots of silver on display.
Folding a Water Lily Napkin
Video courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art
Silver was also popular for more practical reasons, to start with it  has antibacterial qualities which were important  at a time of low hygiene and as such ,silver spoons have been popular christening present  up till recently. Furthermore  this precious metal also keeps heat well which was crucial at a time when kitchens were far from dining room because of fires and odors and food had to stay warm for as long as possible. Most serving pieces therefore had covers to keep the food hot but also to prevent flies and even perhaps makeup powder from getting onto the food during the long journey to the table.

The same service
Image courtesy of http://derstandard.at/1289609325255/Barocker-Tafel-Prunk-im-Liechtenstein-Museum
Last but not least ,the 18th century say the widespread consumption of tea, coffee and cocoa ,all beverages from European colonies that are drank hot. This new taste for imported luxuries was another chance for silversmiths to come up with new forms of tableware. At this period silver was still mainly a privilege of the aristocracy and moneyed classes.

Each candelabrum could have up to 30 components.
Some of the most famous silver to come out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was the Sachsen-Teschen Service parts of which survive till today. It was originally commissioned for Archduchess Marie Christine of Austria   Empress Maria Theresa’s daughter and her husband Duke Albert Casimir of Sachsen-Teschen. Interestingly it was also partly paid for by the bride’s sister Marie Antoinette who expected to inherit the service since Marie Christine and Albert were childless. This imperial “power” couple even spent time living in Bratislava, a bit for a comedown for people of their rank.
Archduchess Marie Christine  and Duke Albert Casimir of Sachsen-Teschen
The service, which was made between about 1779-1782 is in many ways regarded as the epitome of its period. It was made by the then imperial goldsmith Ignaz Joseph Würth and counted approximately 350 pieces from cutlery to plates, dishes, wine coolers and candlesticks. Such a high number of pieces might seem staggering today but from the logistics of the time  it  seemed  reasonable as on average a parson used four silver dishes during a banquet in  order for the maids to keep pace. One might ask what about porcelain, a material which also flourished in the 18th century, but on this level porcelain was still used only to serve dessert. Such services were standard in all aristocratic households as banquets were meant to show off wealth and were also governed by a strict hierarchy and etiquette. When not in use these services were most often put on display for visitors to see. Not only was the silver valuable but the food that was served on it was calculated to impress those at the table. Does this vaguely remind anyone of Instagram foodie shots today?
The Sachsen—Teschen coat of arms
                As the Sachsen--Teschen Service was an expression of sophistication; the individual pieces were heavily decorated with animals and fish but also had allusions to antiquity. The connection to antiquity was twofold, one was the fact that at the time most Viennese silversmiths were trained in France or at least  influenced by French taste which took, from antiquity but also because Austrian nobility often traveled to Italy which across the Alps. This decorative form of neoclassicism was all the rage at the time.
One of the tureens  
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art
Archduchess Marie Christine and  Duke Albert Casimir of Sachsen-Teschen eventually died in obscurity but their silver has  served as a reminder of the times they lived in. Very little Austrian silver made till the early 19th century has survived in part because people did not value antiques as much at the time but also because much of it was melted down during the Napoleonic wars. Additionally with every new change in aesthetics, old silver was melted down to  be recast in the newly fashionable way, only the extremely wealthy could afford to keep old silver an just buy new pieces.
Detail of a wine cooler
Image courtesy of http://www.victorianamagazine.com/archives/5753