Historic and Contemporary Plate Display

This year we are doing something new and different in our displays for the Goldsmiths’ Fair. In the Livery Hall, with its bar and stalls, is an alcove designed in the 1830s for a tiered display of fine silver known as a buffet. There is a permanent display in this niche of ceremonial silver used for formal dining or for display. We alternate between two groups of silver. “The First Class” set is made up of rare and valuable historic pieces, starting with those commissioned from leading Huguenot immigrant goldsmiths in the 1740s. The second group comprises contemporary pieces which advertise excellence and innovation within the extraordinary, living tradition of silversmithing which the Company regulates and promotes. This year, as testimony to who we are as a Company, where we have come from and what we do, we have mixed elements from the historic buffet with the contemporary, balancing old and new in a completely experimental arrangement. The result is a display which indicates that showing fine silver is part of our very identity, in that it tells the very human story of our members:  makers, patrons, retailers and collectors, and of our continuing support of excellence in our trades. A closer look at the pieces on display for the Fair show how this works.

We have balanced the arrangement around a central spine of old and new. In the middle of the top row is Stuart Devlin’s huge and impressive Millennium Dish, which we commissioned from him in 1999 to mark the beginning of a new century. It has a broad architectural rim composed of 85 City buildings as closely observed by Devlin in 2000, celebrating the vibrant history of the City and the role of the Company within it—Goldsmiths’ Hall is at noon on the border. Devlin laid out and hand-carved the border design in plaster, and the Company’s arms for the central boss. Boss and rim were then electroformed and gilded. This combination of modern technology with traditional silversmithing characterises Devlin’s masterpiece and makes it a suitable central point for the display.  Anchoring the Devlin dish at the middle of the bottom row is the Warwick Vase, a massive commission from Rundell’s in 1820. The inspiration was an ancient Greek bronze found at Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli in 1770 which delighted generations of artists and collectors. The Company’s vase is one of a number of reduced silver copies made by a variety of makers showing the impact of the antique on neoclassical silversmiths. On the outer edges of the bottom row are two superb commissions made 1740, when Charles Hozier finally established the Company finances on a firm footing. Up until then, almost all the dining silver in the Hall was liable to be melted down for cash at times of political or financial difficulty. Hozier encouraged investment in contemporary silver to build a formal display for the Hall. The two gilded salvers from 1740 by Thomas Farren are expertly engraved by Charles Gardiner. With their central coats of arms of the Company and their undulating gilded edges they make a fine counterbalance to the Devlin Millennium Dish.

Interspersed between the Warwick vase and the Farren salvers are two contemporary pieces in white silver: William Lee’s exquisitely textured, seamless vase of 2005 crafted in Britannia silver, which takes a Chinese porcelain form; and Rod Kelly’s Honeycomb vase, commissioned in 1989, with his characteristic fine chasing as a kind of drawing and storytelling on silver.  On the middle shelf of the buffet, contemporary dishes alternate with 18th Century gilded cups by William Kidney, Paul de Lamerie and Thomas Farren to create a rich interplay of forms and textures. Rauni Higson’s Mountain Burn rosewater dish was commissioned to commemorate Lord Sutherland’s year as Prime Warden of the Company in 2012-13. It points to his love of Scotland, where he lives, through its exquisitely chased design of the swirling current of a stream. To the right is the latest piece on display, the Radiance Dish from 2017 by Miriam Hanid, which was commissioned by the Company to mark William Parente’s year as Prime Warden. This is superbly chased with a tight series of spirals, reminiscent of Iron Age metalwork in the British Museum while being absolutely contemporary in spirit.

The display aims to encourage close, critical looking in demonstrating continuity as well as innovation in design and techniques over 300 years. Above all it is intended to celebrate the vitality of the traditions and trades within which the Company works, teaches and supports its makers here in London in the 21st Century.

Dr Dora Thornton, Curator of the Goldsmiths’ Company Collection introduces the new display of fine silver in the Livery Hall for Goldsmiths’ Fair: “We are doing something completely new for the 2019 Goldsmiths’ Fair. We normally display fine silver in the Livery Hall —where many of the Fair stands now are – on tiered shelves. We either show a superb historic set commissioned from the 1740s, or a set of fine contemporary pieces assembled from the 1980s to now. For the Fair, we are mixing the old in with the new, to advertise excellence and innovation within the extraordinary living tradition of silversmithing which the Company regulates and promotes. Something to celebrate with a glass of champagne in front of the display.”

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