I thought this was a dazzling exhibition, even before I had a glass of wine. It was definitely a step back into history. Two of the great London Livery Companies, the goldsmiths and the vintners, joined to produce a comprehensive exhibition celebrating the traditional relationship between two of life’s most delightful indulgences—wine and silver.
The Goldsmith & The Grape
Goldsmith’s Hall, London, England
July 11-28, 1983
It is impossible to imagine the enormous amount of wealth and technical knowledge necessary to produce the hundreds of glittering items on display. This elegant exhibition was made particularly visually exciting by its surroundings in the beautiful, rich, baroque architecture of Goldsmith’s Hall. The historic pieces of silver and gold plate were positively mesmerizing in their use of precious metals.
The exhibition started with a gold beaker dating back to 2,200 B. C. Then it went on throughout history, showing secular plate and religious vessels from the Middle Ages to today. There are not enough superlative adjectives to describe the wealth of engraved, embossed, chased and cast designs inspired by organic shapes of earlier medieval goblets and containers, and modern examples were almost overwhelmingly contrasted by the opulent, sometimes grotesque and overabundant fantasy created by flowers, foliage, animals, birds, human figures and mythological beasts. Precious metals were combined with enamel, crystal, ceramics, coconut shells, ostrich eggs, horn and so on.
There was also a selection of accessories for tasting and cooling; a series of ingenious miscellaneous antiques, and a very good representation of contemporary silver. Among the samples of the last, most impressive was a collection of 37 wine cups commissioned by the court of assistants of the Goldsmith’s Company. Since 1957 the Goldsmith’s Company has given a sum of money to each of its 30-strong governing bodies to commission a wine cup for personal use at lunches and dinners at the hall. It is a remarkable collection, which illustrates a wide range of personalities indicated by style and taste in design. It is very encouraging to note the superb craftsmanship available from contemporary designers and it is good to think the Goldsmith’s Company by starting such a tradition is continuing to encourage modern silversmiths. There were well over 100 examples of modern silver produced by more than 50 designers.
The vintners, as their part of the exhibition, provided wine and expertise for a series of tastings given in conjunction with films and lectures about the working of precious metal and the serving of wine. The fourth of July, an occasion not necessarily celebrated by the English, was commemorated by the Goldsmiths with a luncheon featuring American wine and blueberry pie. As part of the wine tasting that day, a selection of seven wine writers were given an opportunity to see if silver changed the taste of wine. Each judge was asked to taste six known second-growth clarets from an ordinary glass and then they were retasted blindfolded to see if they could identify them again in silver goblets. Without the advantage of seeing the color of the wine, the panel were still able to identify 50 per cent—a seemingly good proportion. The taste remained unchanged. The silversmiths sighed relief.
Claude Blair, retired keeper of metalwork at the Victoria & Albert Museum, should be gratefully credited for compiling this superb exhibition and its handsome catalog. The catalog is available for £3.70, including surface postage, from Goldsmith’s Hall, Foster Lane, London EC2V 6BN.