Old Silver- and Gold-ware
See also : Silverware
Tang Gilt Silver Bowl
2019 SOLD for $ 3.5M by Christie's
A Tang bowl 24.5 cm in diameter and weighing 1.05 Kg was sold by Sotheby's on May 14, 2008 for £ 1.14M from a lower estimate of £ 350K, lot 54, and for $ 3.5M by Christie's on September 12, 2019, lot 551.
The technique is foreign but the refinement is Chinese. The bowl has the shape of an opened lotus flower, decorated on its outer wall with three overlapping rows of lotus petals. Each frieze is composed of eight elements. A narrow garland separates the upper frieze from the rim of the bowl. The interior is centered with a gilt medallion showing a round dance of eight birds in blooming branches.
Each petal is a cartouche that was made in repoussé before being gilded and very finely chiseled with motifs of peonies and pairs of birds. This illustration is perhaps more decorative than symbolic although the repetition of the eight is certainly not a coincidence. The shape of the petals takes into account the curvature of the wall, more flared at the bottom.
This piece was made with a thick silver sheet rounded on a mould. It is a feat with regard to the regularity of its repoussé. The experts observed two tiny reworks made by the artist to correct the hammering.
These extremely rare bowls are also known in pure gold and pure silver. This type did not survive the Tang, probably because of the development of the porcelain.
On September 12 in #NewYork our Masterpieces of Early Chinese Gold and Silver sale will take place. Comprised of over 100 exquisite objects the collection, formed by Dr. Johan Carl Kempe, includes gold and silver works from the Tang period #AsianArtWeek https://t.co/Qt2FX4BOnJ pic.twitter.com/oZwbgmOVLB— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) September 5, 2019
Tang Gilt Silver Bowl
2008 SOLD for £ 1.6M by Sotheby's
Other Tang pieces in the same sale included a lobed silver bowl, lot 48, and a parcel gilt silver bowl, lot 74, both sold for £ 450K.
Tang Silver Animals Bowl
2021 SOLD for $ 1.1M by Christie's
This piece 16.5 cm in diameter is weighing 333 g. Its base is flat.
It is very finely chiseled and engraved of circular narrow bands in patterns of scrolls, leaves, palmettes and volutes. The central band is made of peach shaped medallions, each one enclosing a highly recognizable animal in a variety of species and attitudes, including an elephant, a camel, boars, foxes and wolves. A band below the rim displays birds flying between pairs and blossoms.
The craft is much refined and meticulously finished. The bowl was made from a single piece of silver shaped on a mould, probably in wood. The blank interior was covered by another layer of silver for canceling the traces of the workmanship of the exterior wall. This layer was folded and hammered across the rim.
Similar exquisite bowls have been found in a hoard of silver and gold vessels excavated in 1970 near current day Xi'an, the starting point of the Silk Road and one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals..
Tang Rhinoceros Silver Dish
2021 SOLD for $ 1.05M by Christie's
A rhinoceros dish 15 cm in diameter weighing 315 g was sold by Sotheby's for £ 390K on May 14, 2008, lot 59, and for $ 1.05M by Christie's on September 23, 2021, lot 708.
Still extant in Southern China at the time of the Tang, the rhino was considered as a mythic beast in the North. This one is standing on its four legs and bears three giant flowers on its back. It looks accurate including the normal three toes per foot and two horns, excepted that the stout body is covered with cloud shaped scales.
This dish with the rhino facing left had a pendant : a dish with the same beast facing right, carrying the same load of flowers. In a lesser condition, it was sold for £ 170K by Sotheby's on May 14, 2008, lot 60.
Chinese or Mongol Gold Cup
2019 SOLD for $ 2.54M by Christie's
It is titled to the Yuan dynasty in Christie's catalogue. Other cups or bowls in a similar style in gold or silver are dated from the Song dynasty, the Jin dynasty or the Song-Yuan transition. It had been considered as Song in Sotheby's catalogue. Its loose ring is typical of the Mongol practice to hang utensils to the belt, and an origin from the Xixia dynasty is supported by some of the decorative details.
This 11.2 cm wide cup is weighing 72 g. It is finely chased in its shallow interior with peony blossoms surrounded by scrolling stems and below its external rim with a narrow upper band of scrolls.
The handle is made with two gold sheets in repoussé featuring a dragon's head suspending the ring from its clenched jaws.
A Song gold dish without pedestal and handle but also with a central peony decoration was sold for £ 410K by Sotheby's on May 14, 2008, lot 106. Another one 15.6 cm in diameter weighing 120 g, Song or Yuan, was sold for £ 265K by Sotheby's on May 14, 2008, lot 102, and for $ 590K by Christie's on September 12, 2019, lot 572.
1560 Great Salt
2015 SOLD for £ 1.02M by Sotheby's
With its square box and its cover topped by the tall figure of a warrior, this salt box looks like a clock. A smaller example, certainly by the same artist, is known as the Wallace salt. The origin of the Wallace salt is not English but from mainland, probably brought in England during the grand tour of a Duke of Buckingham.
The design of the four legs in acanthus terminated with lion paws is French: this ornament is one of the innovations of Jacques Androuet du Cerceau around 1550. The catalog suggests for the great salt a date around 1560 and raises a doubt about the French or Flemish origine of the silver work.
The box and the lid include cartouches for lozenge enamels in basse taille. Chemical analyses show that the colors of the enamels are not recent and they may be dated to the early fourteenth century, certainly French. The lozenge was out of fashion in the ornamentation of the sixteenth century. The recovery of the two largest enamels has certainly inspired the entire constitution of the great salt as the two other sides of the box display carved gilt scenes similar in design.
Its iconography is mostly religious. The box was placed on the table with the householder. A server opened it and laid the salt on the bread that was offered to the guests for the benedicite. Smaller salt vessels could also be spread on the table.
1580-1650 The Orpheus Cup
2016 SOLD for £ 1.06M by Sotheby's
The cover sculpted in the round (en ronde bosse) is a burgeoning scene on the theme of Mount Parnassus, dominated by Diane and Orpheus and supplemented by putti and animals charmed by the lyre of the musician. The stem shows Atlas kneeling on a mound inhabited by reptiles. In between, the two sides of the bowl are decorated in an enamel paint, respectively with a scene from Ovid and a hunting scene.
According to the sensitivity of the mid-nineteenth century, this cup should be attributed to Benvenuto Cellini with several arguments : the mythology, the extreme density of the characters, the use of enamel on gold. Shortly after the Exhibition, Baron Lionel waives this attribution.
The habit of melting the old silverware leaves very few comparative elements to define the place and date of its creation and even its original use. A similarity appears however with a cup without lid preserved in the Rijksmuseum : the figure of Orpheus constituting the stem and the animals and putti surrounding the poet have probably the same origin as the corresponding elements of the Orpheus Cup.
The solution to this mystery is not found but will come from the new assumption that the three parts are composite, which is quite plausible for a piece of silverware.
A mark on another enameled bowl that also offers some similarities leads to an origin in Augsburg in the mid seventeenth century, a period consistent with the iconography of the bowl but too recent for the ronde bosse. It is possible that a South German craftsman had gathered the current cover and stem of the Orpheus Cup along with the current stem of the Rijksmuseum cup and assembled the two bowls around 1650 with these elements made circa 1580 by one of his predecessors.
The Rothschild Orpheus Cup was sold for £ 1.06M from a lower estimate of £ 600K by Sotheby's on July 6, 2016, lot 8.
Adam van VIANEN
2018 SOLD for $ 5.4M by Christie's
Sons of a silversmith in Utrecht, Adam and Paulus van Vianen are artists. Paulus travels and transfers the Dutch taste to Rudolf II in Prague. Adam remains in Utrecht. They create complex shapes by chasing a silver plaque of very high purity, shaping the surface into lobes that have identified their style as "auricular". The figures are modeled on wax.
The covered baluster ewer 23 cm high sold for $ 5.4M by Christie's on April 20, 2018 as lot 21 is dated 1619. It is clearly signed A. DE VIANA rather than stamped with a logo, confirming that Adam claimed the status of an artist.
Beyond a Mannerist accumulation including masks, dolphins, monsters and a beetle apparently without an overall coherence, the main theme of this ewer is the story of Marcus Curtius divided into three large roundels. The van Vianen brothers also used the themes of Mucius Scevola and Horatius Cocles for other pieces in an obvious desire to make a praise of the Republican sacrifice.
One of the greatest admirers and collectors of auricular silverware will be Rembrandt, attesting to the important influence of that style on the decorative art of the Dutch Golden Age.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
1624 Galatea Standing Salt
2018 SOLD for £ 1.03M by Sotheby's
Salt cellars became works of art. The great cellars used for keeping the salt had figural lid finials while standing salts could be Caryatid stems holding on their heads the cup for offering the salt.
On July 4, 2018, Sotheby's sold a standing salt 20 cm high in embossed and chased silver for £ 1.03M from a lower estimate of £ 600K, lot 10. This piece made in Utrecht in 1624 was signed by Adam van Vianen in the Latin form of his name, A de Viana.
Salt invites to marine themes. This salt features Galatea in the nude, seated on a monster made of a sea shell with catching human arms. This figure was also published as a print ca 1650 by Christiaen van Vianen highlighting the masterpieces made by his father.
The cup over the head of the nymph is in the signature auricular style of van Vianen.
A 20 cm high standing salt was sold for £ 740K by Sotheby's on July 6, 2021, lot 2. Similar in its technique of embossed and chased silver as the Galatea, it features the more realistic theme of Flora the barefoot flower girl as an allegory of Summer. The salt cup over her head has the form of an oversized basket in common use by Dutch country women. It has been made in 1621 in Utrecht by Adam van Vianen who signed it with his Latin initials ADV. Salt is corrosive to the silver and the salt bowl has been reworked at a later date.
1639 Inkstand by Christiaen van Vianen
2021 SOLD for £ 1.94M by Christie's
Christiaen made his early career in London. His technique was of chasing silver which he considered as superior to molding and his art was much prized by King Charles I. In the 1640s he had prepared by the engraver Theodor van Kessel a book illustrating the highly original designs of his father.
On July 8, 2021, Christie's sold a inkstand for £ 1.94M from a lower estimate of £ 1M, lot 15. This silver piece is bearing the mark of the assayer Alexander Jackson, London, 1639. This one of a kind masterpiece is 42 cm long, 40 cm wide and 26 cm wide and weighs 5.3 kg. The design and chasing are matching the extreme skills of Christiaen van Vianen.
The front and back compartments have hinged covers and detachable containers including the ink pot and a sander. The walls are intricately chased with allegories of the seven liberal arts and with grotesques and scrolls. The feet are made of reclining leopards and lions in the round. At both ends of the stand, addorsed standing putti are holding a candle socket. Two coats of arms are nearly one century later.