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The Portland Font

 

Height: 33.000 cm (total)
Width: 42.000 cm (total)
Weight: 11.000 kg

Purchased with the aid of a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and with funds bequeathed by George Bernard Shaw

M&ME 1986,4-3,1

Room 47: Europe 1800-1900

    The Portland Font

    London, England, AD 1797-98

    Made for the baptism of the Duke of Portland's grandson

    This superb gold font was designed by Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) and made by the workshop of Paul Storr (1771-1844). It is the only known example in England of a gold font made for private use. It was commissioned by William Bentinck, third duke of Portland (1738-1809) on the occasion of the birth of his first grandson in 1796. It has remained in the family until its acquisition by the British Museum in 1986.

    The detachable bowl, with its bold neo-classical decoration, rests on four winged cherub feet, surrounded by three free-standing sculptural figures representing the Cardinal Virtues. These are: Faith (standing with a cross and her hand held over the bowl in the act of benediction), Hope (seated, holding a symbolic anchor) and Charity (seated and shown comforting children).

    This is the first use in English goldsmith's work of free-standing figural sculpture, and heralds the nineteenth-century tradition of magnificent sculptural presentation plate. The contrast between chased and burnished surfaces of gold can be noted in the textured draperies of the figures, while the lilies decorating the underside of the bowl are reflected in the plinth below, as if on water.

    Paul Storr was one of the most outstanding and well known of London goldsmiths. He operated an independent firm before joining the Royal Goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell in 1811.

    S. Gough (ed.), Treasures for the Nation, exh. cat. (London, Published by The British Museum Press for the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 1988)

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