This handsomely presented volume has an initial chapter tided ‘An English Goldsmith’s Work History, and over 140 of the 158 pages of the book display gold and enameled pieces with virtuoso designs and flawless craftsmanship.
The objects of vertu, items of regalia and insignia were produced over the past four decades, with James Miller as the goldsmith for these highly refined objects; and he was the designer too for many pieces. These are composite objects, produced by the goldsmith in conjunction with other specialists, and the majority are enhanced with enamelling. As such the illustrations represent the art and craft work for sumptuous items produced for leading. London retailers of small luxury goods, or commissioned by civic institutions and by private patrons. The majority of the pieces are therefore in specialist or personal collections and royal treasuries, but some are now in public museums, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
The text, while very succinct, documents key stages of the English apprenticeship system, and, of special importance, gives precise details of the training and working stages leading eventually to the qualification of Master Goldsmith. For many years, Miller was heading a department of a large goldsmiths’ atelier, before establishing his independent workshop. The information gives insight into how a network of craftsmen co-operated to produce such outstanding display items. There are details also on some of the interrelationships of the leading London retail houses who commissioned these pieces over the past four decades. The captions for the illustrations supplement these details, giving names of designers, commissioning patrons and the craftspeople involved for each item.
The designs for the display pieces centre on ephemeral and delicate subjects, such as a humming bird poised seemingly in mid-air, plique-a-jour butterflies alighting on foliage and alluringly coloured enamel flowers, supported on reflective guilloché or polished hardstone bases. The style perfected by the House of Fabergé over a century ago is perpetuated for intricate presentation eggs, timepieces and miniature frames. For all these complex designs, the forms and colours give harmonious results, created with the integration of the goldsmithing, engine turning, enamelling, gem setting and polishing so skillfully done so that there are no apparent divisions between the materials. These are therefore modern minor works of art, in the traditions of earlier times, commissioned for splendid residences and as very prestigious presentation pieces. In parallel to the creation of such flights of fancy the production of the formally designed and precisely coloured insignia pieces form the other branch of enduring enamelled items commissioned as symbols of regal and civic status, and to commemorate historic events.
The display pieces and the heraldic items shown by James Miller in this book, by definition, are therefore items for a very select clientele . For the reader, it offers the opportunity to find out about the backgrounds as well as to take a close look at such a large group of ultra-refined objects. And of course it will be the source of great inspiration for the craftspeople who aim to work in continuation of such a peak of modern craftsmanship, which incorporates exceptional enameling within long-held traditions.
The Work of a Master Goldsmith – A Unique Collection [June 2009] by James Miller.
Published by N.A.G. Press. ISBN 246810975531
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