Monday, April 18, 2011

British Decorative silver styles and dates - part 1

From Gold and Silver Hallmarks

To understand and collect Silver it is important to handle and view as much of it as you can.

By examining and comparing Silver close up you can see and notice details that can’t be conveyed in a picture.

It is also important to have an understanding of the historical styles of the silversmiths. This helps to classify silver and also to date the Silver you are looking at. Although not all the styles are listed here, the list that follows represents the most popular British silver decorative styles.

The Rococo is now generally regarded as one of Frances most original and delightful contributions to the Arts. It is hard to believe the antagonism it provoked in contemporary critics. By the early 1720s the first hint of Rococo could be seen in England. It was a complete change to anything that had gone before and silversmiths adopted the style with great enthusiasm as the decoration was so fantastical compared to the plain elegant style that preceded it.

The change was mainly one of emphasis in decoration rather than in form. The swirling movement of water is one of the main elements of the rococo, along with masks, and naturalistic floral displays. The shell was a common motif; its frilly fluted edges and crusty surface texture perfectly suited the aim of Rococo ornamentation.  By the 1760s the style had lost its sculptural quality and the work was in danger of becoming quite crude.

The waning interest in Rococo meant that this style became very popular in the second half of the 18th century and saw classical decoration based on Ancient Greece and Rome come into fashion. At this time no wealthy young Englishman's education was complete without spending at least a year on a tour of the continent.

The archeological excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 1750s made the ancient world very immediate, also revealing a wealth of domestic styles that greatly  influenced all aspects of contemporary fashion.

Swags, urns, wreaths, rams heads, Greek key borders and drop ring handles were in frequent use in silver although often large areas were left unadorned so that the reflective surfaces emphasized the elegance of the shapes and the grace of the proportions.

Smiths were quick to realize that the classic fluted stone column made an ideal shaft for a candlestick and despite small variations on the theme this style remains very popular today. Subtle but significant changes in the 1790s meant that the neoclassical style gave way to plainer decoration as the century reached its close.

Strictly speaking, this style lasted from 1811 to 1820 when the affairs of the country were in the hands of Prince Regent (later George IV ). Not only did he become patron of many silversmiths of the time but also his keen interest in antique styles helped to develop the designs of domestic silverware. The term is often used to include pieces from the late 1790s to 1830s.

It describes pieces that are often similar to the earlier Neo-Classical style yet are inclined to be pompous and heavy. The style is often characterised by applied gadroon (rope-twist) borders, with added shells, and floral motifs. Sometimes Egyptian motifs are apparent reflecting the interest at the time of these ancient styles and excessive details.

Part 2 Victorian and later Styles
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