Pair of ivory and silver-gilt covered cups

London, England, AD 1711-12

A Huguenot masterpiece owned by William Beckford

The mounting of carved ivory cylinders, or 'sleeves' in silver or silver-gilt was fashionable in continental Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, although it was not practised in England. Ivory sleeves, cut from an elephant tusk and often carved with bacchanalian scenes, were always intended for some form of mounting, and can be most commonly seen as tankards, for display purposes. The ivory of these cups is thought to have been carved by a member of the circle of Giovanni Battista Pozzo (flourished 1697-died 1752). Pozzo is known to have worked in Rome, producing a number of carved ivories for visiting tourists.

The mounts are among the masterpieces of David Willaume (1658-1741), a Huguenot silversmith who lived in London from 1687. The decoration is typical of the Huguenot style, with its thick-walled forms and cast ornament. However, the design here is extremely unusual., and was probably devised together with the patron who commissioned the cups.

The cups have belonged to a number of distinguished English collectors, among them Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk (1688-1767) and William Beckford (1760-1844), the renowned collector and connoisseur who had a number of significant ivories in his collection. A view published in 1823 of King Edward's Gallery in Beckford's celebrated home, Fonthill Abbey, shows the cups prominently displayed with another outstanding piece of ivory carving.

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Height: 42.400 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1969,7-5,11.a, b


Bequeathed by Peter Wilding


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