Every object tells a story.
The Courtauld’s collection of 18th century silver is comprised of pieces designed and made by three generations of Courtauld silversmiths. They were the ancestors of Samuel Courtauld, one of the founders of The Courtauld Institute of Art.
Here are ten silver stories;
1. Following French Fashion
During the 18th century, grand-scale dining in England closely followed French fashion. Successive courses were brought to the table – up to eight in France, only three in England – and each required dozens of dishes. These were set out in strict symmetry in the centre of the table, and diners helped themselves to what was within reach.
2. Soups, Sauces and Sculpture
The popularity of new French foods such as soups and sauces required new shapes for serving dishes, such as the tureen and the sauceboat. This ornamented rococo tureen is a sculptural flight of fancy with naturalistic goats’ heads and delicately chased and chiselled flowers.
3. A Hallmark Moment
A hallmark is a stamp guaranteeing the quality of the silver alloy and is still used today. The word derives from Goldsmiths’ Hall in the City of London, where in the 18th century silver pieces were brought to be tested and stamped.
4. The Courtauld Women were fierce and successful in business
Louisa Courtauld, who ran the family business after her husband Samuel’s death in 1765, was one of a small number of successful women silversmiths in England at this time. Louisa Courtauld’s mark was an ‘LC’ set within a lozenge – the traditional shape for widows’ marks.
5. A Chemical Reaction
The primary purpose of this two-handed cup was to show off its owner’s status and wealth. It would have been displayed along with other family silver. It was made as a posthumous tribute to the founder of modern chemistry, Robert Boyle (1627-1691) – most famous for Boyle’s Law and for inventing the vacuum chamber.
6. Salt dishes
Like spices, pepper and mustard, salt was an essential condiment, and in formal table settings each diner would have had his or her own. The dolphin feet of these dainty salt dishes are suggestive of the sea, where salt originates.
7. Coffee vs Tea
In England tea drinking overtook coffee in popularity early in the 18th century. Reserved for affluent homes, tea was a luxury commodity. The Courtauld silversmiths specialised in domestic silver and benefited from this rise in tea-drinking. They were called upon to create an ever-increasing variety of shapes for tea canisters, caddies and sugar boxes.
8. Fox Mask Stirrup-cups
This kind of cup was used for drinking wine immediately before the start of the fox hunt. It was probably handed to a rider already mounted on a horse and with feet in stirrups, hence the cup’s name. Its shape was likely inspired by an Ancient Greek ceramic cup in the shape of a human or animal head, called a rhyton.
9. Under lock and tea
Tea was precious and expensive commodity and was kept locked in chests, and ever more beautiful ones were made for it. This one is covered in shagreen, leather made from shark skin, a highly fashionable material during this period.
10. Sugar and the Slave Trade
These objects are also part of the history of the slave trade, and the great profits to be made from it. Tea was imported into London by the English East India Company, and sugar from British plantations in the West Indies. The MP Charles Tudway, whose full length portrait by Gainsborough hangs in Room 4, made his fortune from sugar plantations in Antigua.