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The Layard Freedom Casket

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Layard Freedom Casket
  • Description

    Casket; silver-gilt, cast, with relief ornament based on the Assyrian sculptures from Nimrud; at each corner is a winged lion or bull, with relief scenes round the sides and on the lid; the body is heavily cast in one piece, the hinged lid is cast separately; inside the lid is an inserted plaque engraved with the arms of Layard and of the City of London, and below, a long inscription recording the presentation of Freedom of the City to Layard; the casket contains the Freedom Certificate.


  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1852 (designed;pre)
    • 1852-1853 (made;circa)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 15.7 centimetres
    • Height: 6.8 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        plaque inside the lid
      • Inscription Comment

        Recording the granting of Freedom of the City of London to Layard, for discovering remains of Eastern antiquity and his contributions to the British Museum.
      • Inscription Type

        maker's mark
      • Inscription Position

        lower edge of right side, the base and the lid
      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Comment

        Crowned; for John S. Hunt of Hunt & Roskell.
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        lower edge of right side, base and lid
      • Inscription Comment

        London hallmarks and date-letter for 1852-1853.
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        lower right edge of front
      • Inscription Content

        Alfred Brown. Sculpt
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        top left of plaque
      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        top right of plaque
      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        bottom right of plaque
      • Inscription Content

  • Curator's comments

    See also 1987,0109.1-2 Contain(s)/ed 1976,0903.2 See also 1987,0109.1-2 Contain(s)/ed 1976,0903.2 Associated dates : 1853 (3rd March).

    Text from J. Rudoe, 'Decorative Arts 1850-1950. A catalogue of the British Museum collection'. 2nd ed. no.127.
    Hunt & Roskell, a firm of manufacturing and retail jewellers and silversmiths, was founded by Paul Storr in 1819, trading as Storr & Co. (1819-22), Storr & Mortimer (1822-38), Mortimer & Hunt (1838-43) and then Hunt & Roskell (1843-97). Hunt & Roskell had retail premises at 156 New Bond Street and a manufactory at 26 Harrison Street, near Clerkenwell. John Samuel Hunt, who had assisted Storr from the start, continued as a partner until his death in 1865, when he was succeeded by his son, John Hunt (d.1879). Robert Roskell, formerly a watchmaker and merchant of Liverpool, joined in 1844 and remained in the firm until his death in 1888. In 1889 the firm was taken over by J.W. Benson and continued in business as Hunt & Roskell Ltd until c.1965.
    J.S. Hunt's first mark was entered in 1839 (Culme, J., 'The Directory of Gold and Silversmiths, Jewellers and Allied Traders 1838-1914', Woodbridge 1987, mark nos 8344-9) and was used concurrently with a joint mark for Mortimer & Hunt (Culme 1987, nos 8272-7). Mortimer retired in December 1843, and in January 1844 J.S. Hunt entered the mark that appears on this casket (Culme 1987, nos 8350-60) and which remained in use until his death; it was only in 1865 that his son entered a mark for J. Hunt & R. Roskell (Culme 1987, nos 8224-8). J. S. Hunt never served an apprenticeship as a silversmith; his mark was entered as a partner in the firm.
    The firm was well known for its presentation plate in a wide variety of styles and was one of the first to exploit A.H. Layard's sensational discoveries: the Hunt & Roskell stand at the Great Exhibition of 1851 included 'Specimens of earrings, in emeralds, diamonds, carbuncles, &c. after the marbles from Nineveh' (Official Catalogue, Section III. Class 23, p. 688, jewellery). Assyrian-style jewellery in gold set with precious stones was also shown by Garrard & Co. (ibid, 689, no. 18), but no examples of jewellery or metalwork are known that can be securely associated with the 1851 exhibition. Most surviving pieces seem to have been made in the 1860s and 1870s (see Rudoe, J., 'Assyrian-style jewellery: a forgotten chapter in the history of Backes & Strauss, London', The Antique Collector, April 1989, 42-8, for detailed discussion of the taste for Assyrian-style jewellery). Thus this casket is one of the earliest surviving pieces of Assyrian-style metalwork.
    Layard excavated in Assyria between 1845 and 1851. The colossal winged bulls and lions and the sculptured reliefs were shipped back to London and displayed in the British Museum from the late 1840s. Layard had discovered the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, but initially he thought he had found Nineveh and so his lavish two-volume publication of 1849 was called Monuments of Nineveh, although it is largely about Nimrud. This explains the reference to 'marbles from Nineveh' in Hunt & Roskell's description of the 1851 jewellery; Nineveh was actually discovered by Layard's successors during the 1850s.
    The inscription inside the casket is a copy of the resolution of the Court of Common Council to award the Honorary Freedom of the City to Layard. As was customary with resolutions, the names of the Mayor and Town Clerk appear top left and lower right. Thomas Challis was Lord Mayor from 1852 to 1853, while Henry Alworth Merewether was Town Clerk from 1842 to 1859. Although the resolution was made on 3 March 1853, Layard did not attend the Guildhall to be admitted by the City Chamberlain until 9 February 1854. The Chamberlain's address and Layard's reply are published in London's Roll of Fame. . .. 1757-1884 (London 1884, 31-2, 199-207). Honorary Freedom was reserved for distinguished recipients and the ceremony thus merited a report in the Illustrated London News (11 February 1854); the casket was illustrated with a drawing by Alfred Brown's brother, James. According to the report:
    the superintendance of the Box was delegated by the late Lord Mayor (Mr. Alderman Challis) to his deputy, Mr. Bennoch [Francis Bennoch, Deputy in 1853]; who, assisted by Mr. Scott, of the Chamberlain's Office [Benjamin Scott, principal clerk 1842-53], made certain suggestions, and confided the execution of the design and work to Mr. Alfred Brown, the sculptor .. . the design is composed of copies from the Nimrud marbles ... to illustrate the manners and customs of the ancient Assyrians. At each angle of the Box is placed the human-headed Bull and Lion, so peculiar to Eastern Art. Between the angles are relievos of the Lion Hunt, as exhibiting their sport and pastimes; the Assyrian Horsemen chasing and overcoming the Arabs, as indicative of military prowess; the King in his chariot, led through the city with pomp and ceremony, showing something of municipal parade in those early times; and the winged deities, kneeling before the Sacred Roll, as descriptive of their religious faith and practice . . . This is, we believe, the first practical use that has been made of the Layard sculptures in connection with art....
    This last claim is slightly inaccurate in view of the Assyrian-style jewellery shown at the Great Exhibition. The lion hunt on the front of the casket is copied directly from Ashurnasirpal's palace at Nimrud of the ninth century BC (WAA 124579, illustrated in Monuments of Nineveh, 1, pl. 31), as is the scene on the back, of two winged figures kneeling before the Sacred Tree (WAA 124580, Monuments of Nineveh, 1, pl. 7A). The scene of Assyrian
    horsemen pursuing an Arab on a camel and the king in his chariot, on the sides of the casket, are both from the eighth-century BC palace of Tiglathpileser in (WAA 118878, Monuments of Nineveh, 1, pl. 57, and 118908, not illustrated in Monuments of Nineveh). The lid is decorated with a winged warrior in a sun-disc, representing the highest Assyrian deity, Ashur, or the sun-God Shamash, copied from a relief in Ashurnasirpal's throne-room depicting the triumphal return of the king from battle (WAA 124551; Monuments of Nineveh, 1, pl. 21). The mouldings along the edges of the casket were copied from the remains of tiles and bricks. The upper frieze was derived from painted ornaments with palmettes and lotus flowers (Monuments of Nineveh, 1, pl. 86), while the lower frieze with winged horses and rosettes appears in the frontispiece to Monuments as one of the border motifs, together with the palmettes and lotus and the winged deity on the lid of the casket. The rectangular shape of the casket is undoubtedly inspired by Layard's reconstructions of Ashurnasirpal's palace in Monuments and is probably intended to suggest an Assyrian building with colossal figures flanking the entrance and relief sculptures decorating the walls. For further illustrations of the casket together with the Nimrud reliefs, see Rudoe, J., 'Lady Layard's jewellery and the Assyrian style in nineteenth century jewellery design', Austen Henry Layard tra l'Orient e Venezia, International Symposium in Venice 1987.
    Little is known about the designer, Alfred Brown. According to Rupert Gunnis, 'Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851', revised ed. London (n.d. 1964, 64), he won a Royal Academy Gold Medal in 1845, exhibited at the Academy from that year until 1855 and exhibited a statue of 'David before Saul' at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He is recorded as a designer of silver between 1851 and 1862. According to Bury, S., 'The Lengthening Shadow of Rundells', Connoisseur 161, February, March, April 1966, 158, Hunt & Roskell financed Brown's training at the Royal Academy Schools. Brown was certainly working for Hunt & Roskell by the time of the 1851 exhibition, when Hunt & Roskell exhibited several of his works: four dessert stands with Indian figures (Official Catalogue, Section III, Class 23, p. 687, nos 14-17, modelled by Brown but designed by Frank Howard; Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue 57); a testimonial in the neo-classical style with the muses of drama and music, and a rococo-style candelabrum for the Marquess of Tweeddale (Official Catalogue, p. 687, nos 24 and 29; Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue, 1851, 57-8; Culme, J., 'Nineteenth Century Silver', London 1977, 119, and 1987, 246, note 34; sold Christie's, London, 22 May 1991, lot 6, from the collection of the late Hilmar Reksten). The essay on taste by R.N. Wornum printed at the back of 'The Art Journal'.Illustrated Catalogue refers to another centrepiece by Brown in the Renaissance style, criticised for its use of dead and burnished silver. Alfred Brown also designed and modelled a group of plate commissioned from Hunt & Roskell by the Goldsmiths' Company in 1853, as a result of a competition to 'test the state of art as applied to silver manufacture'. The group comprised a thirteen-light candelabrum representing the granting of the Charter to the Goldsmiths' Company by Edward III Bury 1966,158,fig. 16), two ten-light candelabra representing Michelangelo and Benvenuto Cellini, and two figure groups of Benevolence and Business Duties, all illustrated and described as the work of Brown in the Illustrated London News, 15 December 1855, 701 (reference kindly supplied by Lesley Leader; see also Carrington, J.B. and Hughes, G.R., 'The Plate of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths', Oxford 1926, 103-4 and 120-21). Thus in 1853 Brown was working for a major city livery company, so it is not surprising that he was approached for the design of the Layard casket. Further pieces by Brown designed and modelled for Hunt & Roskell include a silver centrepiece of 1856 for the Earl of Stamford (Gunnis, 64) and the Napier Testimonial shown at the 1862 International Exhibition in London (Culme 1977, 108).
    Brown also worked for the firm of Watherston & Brogden, for whom he designed a large gold, jewelled and enamelled Renaissance-style vase (Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue, 1851, 251; Culme 1977, 212). Culme 1977 quotes a passage from M. Digby Wyatt (Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century, London 1853, pl. 66) stating that Watherston had assisted the young Brown and helped him secure his position at Hunt & Roskell, and that Brown had designed the vase in gratitude to Watherston.
    For a series of Assyrian-style figures in Parian porcelain made by W.T. Copeland Ltd, see 'Decorative Arts 1850-1950', Cat. 43-8.
    I am grateful to James Sewell, City Archivist, for information from the archives of the City of London.

    See also J. Rudoe, 'Henry Layard et les arts décoratifs du style "Ninive" en Angleterre' in E. Fontan (ed), 'De Khorsabad à Paris, La découverte des Assyriens, Paris 1994, published by the Louvre as a volume of essays to accompany an exhibition at the Louvre. pp.260-73. Plate 1.


  • Bibliography

    • Rudoe 1994 127 bibliographic details
    • Rudoe 1991a 127 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G47/dc9

  • Exhibition history

    1993 18 Nov-1994 15 Jan, France, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 150 ème Anniversaire de la Decouverte des Assyriens
    'Layard and his Successors. Assyrian Explorations and Discovery in the XIXth century', Assyrian Basement 1 Jul-31 Aug 1963 [loaned by Miss Phyllis Layard].

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Associated places

  • Associated events

    • Commemoration of: Freedom of the City of London
  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Phillis Layard is the great-granddaughter of Brown the designer; bequest made care of: Cooper, Son & Caldecott.

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


Casket; silver-gilt, cast, with relief ornament based on the Assyrian sculptures from Nimrud; at each corner is a winged lion or bull, with relief scenes round the sides and on the lid; the body is heavily cast in one piece, the hinged lid is cast separately; inside the lid is an inserted plaque engraved with the arms of Layard and of the City of London, and below, a long inscription recording the presentation of Freedom of the City to Layard; the casket contains the Freedom Certificate.

Reproduced by permission of the artist. © The Trustees of the British Museum

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Object reference number: MCT11019

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