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New catalogue shines light on silver in the Royal Collection

Release date: Tuesday, 31 October 2017

This spectacular <em>Kunstkammer</em> object is one of the finest examples of antiquarian plate acquired by George IV. On its arrival in 1823, it joined a growing collection of virtuoso sideboard cups of varying dates and nationalities. <br> 

Nautilus cup ©

More than half a ton of silver has been conserved ahead of the publication of a new book which details over 350 artworks in the Royal Collection. Published on 2 November 2017, European Silver in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen is the first title for over 100 years to catalogue the magnificent holdings of silverware originating from Europe in the Royal Collection, from candlesticks and desk sets to an 18th century silver-gilt coffee pot belonging to Catherine the Great.

Some of the most intricate and opulent items to feature in the catalogue raisonné are those collected by George IV for his Kunstkammer, a special collection of extremely fine works, many of which can be see in the Lantern Lobby of Windsor Castle today. In 1823 George purchased the spectacular Nautilus cup and cover (left) for 250 guineas which is equivalent to approximately £22,000 today. The high price reflected the unusually large shell and elaborate mount which features figures of Jupiter, Neptune, a mythical sea creature called a hippocamp and four double-tailed mermaids playing instruments. The cup and cover weighs almost 4kg and stands over half a metre high.

During conservation for the catalogue, a boat-shaped silver and gold inkstand, c.1810 acquired by Queen Mary when Duchess of York was found to be a musical instrument, with a winding mechanism concealed within a seal. The size of the seal limits the range of musical notes available, but the tune it plays is thought to be a popular refrain of the time. The inkstand bears the maker's mark of Stuttgart court goldsmith Johann Christian Sick.

An elaborate silver gilt tea service, complete with toast racks, was commissioned as a wedding gift by Napoleon Bonaparte for his adopted daughter Stéphanie de Beauharnais, who married Prince Charles of Baden on 7 April 1806. Other gifts highlighted in the catalogue include a silver, gilt and enamel centrepiece presented to Queen Victoria by her children and grandchildren on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee. Weighing over 40kg, the base of the centrepiece is engraved 'to a beloved mother and grandmother Queen Victoria in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of her reign'. Each of the children and grandchildren's coat of arms is engraved upon a lobe on a vase in the middle of the centrepiece, and Queen Victoria later recorded in her journal that she thought it 'a very handsome piece of plate'.

Queen Mary, consort of George V, was particularly fascinated with the Stuart dynasty and collected 'relics' which were displayed in a so-called 'Stuart Room' at Windsor Castle. In 1919 she purchased a caddinet, an elaborate tray to hold personal condiments and cutlery at a banquet table. Made in Rome, the silver gilt tray was commissioned by Cardinal Henry Stuart and is now regarded as the most important piece of Italian silver in the Royal Collection. The coat-of-arms on the caddinet imply that it dates from before the death of Charles Edward Stuart (1720-88), and the design suggests it was produced in the mid-1780s when Bonnie Prince Charlie's health was failing and Cardinal Henry Stuart would have been in line to inherit the claim to the English throne. The caddinet may now be seen by visitors at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

European Silver in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen is written by Kathryn Jones, Senior Curator of Decorative Arts, Royal Collection Trust. The catalogues raisonnés are produced in line with Royal Collection Trust’s responsibilities to care for, conserve and publish the Royal Collection, raising awareness and increasing knowledge of its remarkable holdings.

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