Gold and Silver
collection is of an importance and breadth that is unparalleled
in modern times, with some 300 pieces ranging chronologically from
the 15th to the 19th centuries and geographically from India to
Europe and South America. It is especially rich in works by the
great English silversmiths of the Georgian period, notably Paul
de Lamerie, and there is a strong emphasis on German pieces among
the Continental silver. Spectacular silver and gold treasures made
for kings, princes and noblemen are on display in one of Britain's
great architectural masterpieces.
the great rarities of the Gilbert Collection are a silver-gilt and
maple wood mazer, or drinking cup, dating from around 1480 and a
silver and parcel-gilt beaker made in London, 1525-26. Fewer than
400 pieces of English medieval silver are believed to have survived,
two thirds of which are ecclesiastical plate and one third domestic
items such as these. Tudor domestic vessels are also rare survivors
and the Gilbert Collection represents most of the characteristic
forms of the period. Among them is a pair of silver-gilt tankards,
embossed and chased with strapwork, fruit and foliage, typical of
late Elizabethan silver. Made in London in 1602-3, it is one of
only two matching pairs of tankards known from before the reign
of James I (1603-25). A pair of silver-gilt flagons or livery pots,
London 1610-11, probably owe their survival to the fact that from
1631 they belonged to St. Augustine's, Watling Street. When the
church was destroyed during the Second World War they were transferred
to St. Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside.
value attached to salt in early times resulted in elaborate receptacles
that became symbols of social importance. Among the imposing salts
in the collection is a cylindrical silver-gilt example, London,
1581-2, standing nearly 11 inches high. It is richly embossed and
chased with lion masks, strapwork and sprays of fruit and the finial
is surmounted by a warrior with a shield and spear. The so-called
bell salt is a rare form and a silver and parcel-gilt example was
made in London, 1599-1600.
collection is especially strong in baroque silver by outstanding
silversmiths such as Philip Rollos, Anthony Nelme and Benjamin Pyne
from the 17th and early 18th centuries. Among the latter's works
is a pair of silver-gilt hexagonal dishes, London 1698-99, bearing
the arms of Courtenay of Powderham Castle, Devon. The chasing round
the border is marked by Continental influences and has been described
as "one of the most remarkable examples of flat-chased work on English
silver". Originally from a set of four, the other pair is in the
Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
most successful of the Huguenot goldsmiths was undoubtedly Paul
de Lamerie, who arrived in England with his parents around 1689,
and the Gilbert Collection includes one of the greatest groups of
de Lamerie's works in this country. One of the most important works
of his early career is a pair of silver-gilt sconces, circa 1717,
which mark the high point of his interpretation of the Régence style.
They are on an unparalleled scale, nearly 22 inches high, and were
probably designed by Daniel Marot, another Huguenot refugee who
was William III's architect. Engraved with the Foley arms, they
remained in that family until 1925 when they were acquired by Lady
Trent who lived in Jersey. When the Germans occupied the island
in 1940, Lady Trent's chef hid the sconces and other fine silver
in a well in the greenhouses and retrieved them safely when the
war was over.
of de Lamerie's most important patrons was the Prime Minister Sir
Robert Walpole. Two pieces bearing his arms are in the collection:
a two-handled oval silver basket, 1731-32, which was later inherited
by Walpole's great grandson, Horace Walpole of Strawberry Hill;
and a pair of candelabra, 1731-32, which is an early example of
de Lamerie's rococo style and his earliest recorded candelabra.
the most flamboyant and imaginative rococo pieces by de Lamerie
are a silver ewer and dish, 1742-43, bearing the arms of another
of his most important clients, the sixth Earl of Mountrath. The
helmet-shaped ewer stands on a foot chased with flowers, waves and
a lizard, the stem is moulded as a kneeling putto and the body is
chased with a figure of Neptune in a seascape with scrolls, clouds
and personifications of the winds. The handle is a female demifigure
rising from flowers and holding a shell. The large dish is similarly
elaborate, the border chased in high relief incorporating figures
of Juipiter, Diana and putti with elaborate scrolls, masks, shells
and flowers. Made when de Lamerie's powers of inventiveness were
at their zenith, the only comparable set belongs to the Goldsmiths'
silver of the first half of the 18th century was dominated by Paul
de Lamerie, Paul Storr was the great maker of the early 19th century,
and works by this master are another of the collection's strengths.
Among them is an elegant silver-gilt basket in the form of plaited
ears of wheat, 1797-98, the underside engraved with the crest of
William Beckford of Fonthill who has been described as a "prince
of collectors ... and one of the most colourful individuals in the
history of English art collecting". The basket is one of several
pieces of Beckfordiana in the Gilbert Collection.
particular feature of the collection is a group of silver which
belonged to various sons of George III including four Paul Storr
soup tureens and stands bearing the royal ducal crest, coronet and
Garter badge of Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland who was later
King of Hanover. The tureens are magnificent English examples of
the neo-Egyptian style and among the grandest of all designs made
to the order of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, royal warrant holders
from 1806, and employers of the leading artists and craftsmen of
of the European silver in the collection comprises grand pieces
made as works of art for princely treasuries of the 16th and 17th
centuries. These valuable objects of dramatically imaginative designs
often incorporate exotic or precious natural or man-made materials.
Rock crystal was one of the most precious of these materials and
a 16th-century German tankard was carved from a single block of
crystal with elaborate silver-gilt mounts which include lion feet
and a handle formed as a female demifigure rising from foliage,
a female mask, wings and fishtails. This remarkable piece represents
the ultimate of German Renaissance goldsmiths' work and epitomises
the mid-16th century Schatzkammer, or treasury, object.
the Middle Ages rock crystal, coconut and rhinoceros horn were among
the exotic materials thought to possess miraculous powers and were
therefore highly prized. A German silver-gilt-mounted coconut shell,
circa 1580, is carved with scenes of the Passion of Christ, the
silver-gilt finial in the form of the Virgin Mary, while a rhinoceros
horn beaker, probably from Flanders, circa 1590, has a silver-gilt
base, rim and cover, surmounted by a finial in the form of a rhinoceros.
The first live rhinoceros seen in Europe since antiquity arrived
in Lisbon in 1515 as a diplomatic gift to the King of Portugal.
Rare shells were also used by 16th-century goldsmiths to create
exotic vessels in the mannerist style. Among those in the collection
is a German silver-gilt and polished turban shell, circa 1590-1600,
surmounted by an eagle's head and wings chased with plumage. A particularly
brilliant and extravagant jewelled object is a silver, parcel-gilt
and mother-of-pearl cup in the form of a partridge studded with
rubies and emeralds. Made in Germany, circa 1600, it was formerly
in the collection of Baron Leopold de Rothschild in London.
the later Continental pieces is the impressive Lafayette Vase made
in Paris, 1830-35, by Jacques Henri Fauconnier for presentation
to the French hero of the American War of Independence, the Marquis
de Lafayette, although not completed until after his death in 1834.
The richly decorated silver-gilt and ormolu two-handled vase stands
on a plinth with scenes in relief from the life of Lafayette with
four free-standing allegorical figures at the angles.
and Indian Silver
the most spectacular exhibits are two pairs of Russian silver, parcel-gilt
gates made in Kiev, circa 1784, and presented by Empress Catherine
the Great to the churches at Pechersk Lavra (monastery of the caves),
Kiev. These magnificent gates, standing over 7˝ feet high, are unique
outside the former Soviet Union and were sold in the 1930s by the
Soviet government when they were acquired by William Randolph Hearst.
Known as royal gates because Christ as the King of Glory passes
through them in the form of the Eucharist, they were the central
feature of the iconostasis that separates the sanctuary from the
nave in Orthodox churches.
the most exotic silver in the collection are the 19th-century Indian
pieces which include a pair of wooden doors covered in silver panels
and originally intended for a Rajput palace. These ornate silver
doors are embossed with splendid examples of the imagery of the
hunt and romance associated with the princely culture of Rajasthan.
There are also two highly-decorative silver howdahs and a silver
and parcel-gilt throne, the arms in the form of standing lions,
and a footstool.
gold objects comprise the largest collection of solid gold wares
in the country. Among them is one of the earliest-known gold vessels,
made in the cradle of metalworking techniques, Anatolia (modern
Turkey) in the Bronze Age, circa 2500-2000 BC. The remarkably sophisticated
and elegant ewer is made from a sheet of gold embossed with grid
patterns separated by ribs. A survival almost as remarkable as the
Anatolian ewer comes from the other side of the world. A 17th-century
two-handled embossed gold cup made in South America, probably Peru,
was recovered in 1985 from a wreck that is believed to part of the
Spanish bullion fleet sunk in 1715 off the Florida coast.
gold cup possibly made in Augsburg, South Germany, dated 1665, is
decorated in enamel with grotesque masks, sprays of flowers, exotic
birds and the coat of arms of Count Georg Nikolaus zu Rosenberg
who presented the cup in 1665 to the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold
I whose portrait is also incorporated in the decoration. This opulent
presentation in commemoration of the signing of a peace treaty with
the Turks clearly reflects the gratitude of a major landowner whose
property had been threatened by the extent of the Turkish inroads
to this part of Europe. A 19th-century piece is a gold and enamel
chalice enriched with pearls and diamonds. It is unmarked but was
probably made in Paris, possibly by Lucien Falize, and has been
described as "one of the most sumptuous creations of the 19th-century
Historicist Style". Such pieces were produced for display at international
exhibitions and made purely for prestige. This chalice is typical
of the period's eclectic approach to design, combining elements
of mid-15th to early-17th century ecclesiastical and secular ornament.
perseverance and passionate dedication of the Gilberts to acquiring
works of the highest quality has resulted in a collection of silver
and gold that provides under one roof a encyclopaedic display of
the art of the goldsmith.
information was kindly supplied by:
Sue Bond Public Relations,
Hollow Lane Farmhouse, Hollow Lane,
Thurston, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP31 3RQ
Tel. 01359 271085
Fax 01359 271934
are very grateful for Sue bond's help in putting together this article
about these amazing treasures.