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A collection of European jewellery from the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine
The Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine possesses several collections of jewellery of different provenance and of different epochs. Not all of the available exhibits have been subjected to equally thorough study and there is still much to be learnt about them. One of the Museum’s collections shows west European 16th through 20th century silver in all of its splendour. Most of the exhibits of this collection that come from major west European jewellery centres are of superb artistic quality. Not all of the items are well-documented and much remains unclear in their history.
The collection is made up of art objects that were created in Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands and Poland, thus making it possible to trace the development of west European jewellery through several centuries. Germany has traditionally been known as a leader in silversmithing. There were rich silver deposits in the lands of Germany and it had more silversmithing centres than probably any other west European country. German silversmiths combined superb execution with great artistry. German silverware and decorative silver objects are of infinite variety, richness and ingenuity, and these qualities made German silver objects very popular items in many European countries. Master silversmiths from Augsburg, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Berlin, Konigsberg and Danzig produced silver objects of great technical perfection, elegance of form and impressive decorative qualities. Nuremberg and Augsburg were looked upon for a long time as the major centres of silversmithery.
Augsburg silversmiths were famous for creating objects to decorate halls designed for solemn ceremonies and receptions. Augsburg silversmiths were also famed for magnificent silverware to be used at sumptuous banquets. One just can't help admiring jewellery from Augsburg.
Nuremberg silversmiths made goblets, bowls and beakers of all kinds and various shapes. Among them one finds items that could be actually used in everyday life and those that were to serve only decorative purposes. Some, because of their shape, are described as “funny.”
In the early 17th century the artistic ideas of the Renaissance, with their relative simplicity and conciseness in art forms, still predominated, but in the 1620s a marked tendency towards decorative sumptuousness began to quickly develop. The Baroque style in jewellery was characterized by intricate silhouettes with curving lines, abundant ornamentation employing floral motifs, representation of numerous human and animal figures, often with allegorical and symbolic meaning. Baroque art sought to impress the viewer with its exuberance, splendour and magnificence.
High and low relief was particularly widely used in decorating silver art objects. Thanks to it, representations of figures looked both lively and highly decorative. Silversmiths avoided any monotony or repetitiveness in their creations. They handled and treated silver with great dexterity, love and care, releasing the metal’s best qualities. Simple household items such as all kinds of cups and mugs looked like creations of high art. German silversmiths showed great imagination and inventiveness in decorating their creations, and these features became their trade mark.
German mugs dating back to 17th and 18th centuries are of amazing variety of shapes and decorative elements. The most popular ones at that time were cylindrical and conical vessels with lids on hinges, whose entire surface was covered with carved or cast decor. There are mugs in the shape of a bunch of grapes, flowers and animals. Mugs, shaped like female figures, were often used at weddings for brides and their bridegrooms to drink from. Similar cups were created not only in Germany but also in Holland and England.
German jewellers handled with great mastery not only silver but many other materials, including rather exotic ones: ivory, coconut shells, corals, ostrich eggshells, narwhal tusk, pearls, nautilus shells. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the general public showed an ever growing interest in nature and its innumerable manifestations, and the decorations of silver and other art objects reflect this interest.
The ceremoniousness of church rituals and religious feasts influenced the development of the art of jewellery. Royal personages, aristocracy, rich burghers gave splendidly decorated gifts made of precious metals to churches and monasteries. The objects used in the church service such as chalices, tabernacles and monstrances were of particularly splenderous execution. Different intricate techniques (carving, fretwork, openwork, filigree) were used in decorating chalices. Multicoloured stones, medallions with enamel enhanced general impression of lavishness.
In the 18th century, west European art began to be influenced by Oriental art in general, and by that of far and mysterious China in particular. Under this influence, some of the household items acquired most bizarre shapes. Tea things to be placed on the tables in European homes look like fancy creatures from Oriental fairy tales.
From the 1830s and up to the times of Art Nouveau, eclectic tendencies prevailed in the decorative arts. Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and rococo styles all got mixed up. Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire became one of the greatest jewellery centres of the world in the 19th century, and the Viennese silverware in the so-called “second rococo” style was to be found all around Europe.
Though the collection of west European silver in the Museum of Historical Treasures is rather modest as far as the number of exhibits is concerned (about 400), it nevertheless has excellent pieces of great beauty and elegance.
By Olena Volkovynska
The silver objects have been
photographed by Mykhaylo Andreyev
Decorative dish. Holland, 1654. Cast gilt silver,
embossed, engraved. Baroque style; typical for
this style was to apply gilt ornament to the smooth
surface of the dish. In the centre of the dish one
can see a crayfish done in a naturalistic manner.
Allegorical figures represent Moderation, Love and
Justice. One gets an impression, that the master
who created this dish made it a point to amaze
and amuse the onlooker with the intricacy and
exquisiteness of design and execution.
Cup with saucer, and cream jug. Leipzig, Germany,
early 20th century. Embossed and engraved silver.
It is known that these objects belonged to
a noble family.
Mug. Augsburg, Germany, 1736. Cast gilt silver,
embossed, engraved; ivory. Rococo style; “a muff’
made of ivory has a battle scene carved on it.
Dish. Germany, end of 19th — early 20th century.
Cast silver, embossed, engraved. Tradition to have
coins welded into the bottom of dishes started in
the mid-17th century and lived on for two centuries.
Dish. Germany, end of the 18th century. Silver,
embossed, engraved; jasper, carbuncle, amethyst.
Such decorative dishes with allegorical and symbolical
scenes on them were hung on the walls of majestic
halls; Flight into Egypt, a Gospel scene, is
represented on this dish.
Table service. Vienna, Austria, 1858. Cast gilt silver,
embossed. Masters of decorative arts in the
19th-century Europe used different styles of
different epochs in an eclectic manner.
Goblet. Germany, mid-17th century. Cast silver,
embossed. Goblets shaped like female figures were
used at weddings; newlyweds drank from them in
turns. Such goblets usually had two hollow spaces —
one, bigger, in the skirt of the figure, and the other
above the figurine’s head. First, the bigger one was
to be drained, then the other one; it was particularly
tricky since not a drop was to be spilled from the
smaller one while drinking from the bigger one.