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Pair of altar dishes 1660-61

RCIN 92018

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  • Circular silver gilt alms dish. Broad rim embossed with winged cherubs' heads and shaped reserves embossed with flowers and acanthus. The centre embossed with wreath of flowers around a crowned Tudor rose on pounced ground in circular laurel garland.

    The selling off of the chapel plate of Charles I took place throughout the Civil War, largely by the Royalists, but culminated in 1649 with a symbolic melt of the crown jewels and regalia by the Parliamentarians, finally doing away with all 'toys' associated with the Crown.

    In 1660, therefore, there was a certain urgency to replenish the royal Jewel House with practical items of plate as well as items required for the coronation of the king. In the first year of his reign, Charles commissioned 73,000 troy ounces of plate, amounting to £30,000-worth of silver, in order to stock the royal chapels, the dining table and to provide lighting for the royal residences. The resulting chapel plate, much of it used at Westminster Abbey to create the dazzling display on the altar at the time of the coronation, was of the highest baroque form, incorporating auricular decoration and virtuoso chasing of Biblical scenes.

    At the heart of the new chapel plate lay the great altar dishes, some of the largest to have been created and wrought in heavy-gauge silver. They appear to have been gilded from the first (unlike much of the dining plate of the period, which was only gilded in the early nineteenth century).

    For a short period, the Stuart symbol of a 'rose slipped in the stalk', a heraldic device showing a rose sprouting two or four leaves, appeared on the plate associated with Charles II's initial commission in 1660. This symbol seems almost exclusively to have been used on the plate associated with the coronation and was not repeated elsewhere. The ciphers and arms on the plate were reworked for the coronations of both William and Mary and Queen Anne.

    The plate provided for the Abbey was not mentioned by Walker in his account of preparations for the coronation of the king – these pieces were working plate, albeit for high days and holidays. Similar series of large altar dishes with accompanying chalices, patens, altar flagons and candlesticks were commissioned at the same time for the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace and for St George's Chapel in Windsor, many of the works bearing similar makers' marks.

    Text adapted from Charles II: Art and Power (2017)

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