Place Made: England
Materials & Techniques: Silver-gilt
Dimensions: Height 16 cm
Accession Number: Waddesdon Manor 39.1997
This strange object is a drinking cup. It is made of silver covered in a thin layer of gold, called gilding. It was made by Christian Van Vianen, a goldsmith, who was born in Holland but made the cup in England. Van Vianen started out with a flat sheet of silver. He then heated it up until it was red-hot, which made it go soft, and hammered it to make the shape. He then used smaller hammers to make the pattern, tapping from both sides and stopping every now and then to heat the silver up again. This technique is called 'chasing'.
Originally, this cup was plain silver, but the gold covering was added later. We know this from the painting of the cup (click here to see the image) in which it is silver, not gold.
If you look closely at the stem of the cup, you will see it is decorated with a child being covered with what looks like flowing water (see detail of stem). It is as if Van Vianen is reminding us that silver can be melted into a liquid.
This cup is made of only two materials (silver with a thin covering of gold), but it was technically speaking extremely difficult to make. Usually, a cup like this would be made in several sections (the foot, the stem, the bowl etc), all joined together with solder or screws. This one is made from a single sheet of silver which has been 'raised', or hammered, over a specially shaped stake until the form was right. The silver was then hammered from the front (chasing) and the back (embossing) to create the decoration. Silver does not retain its malleability for long, so has to be continually heated to a dull red hot and then cooled, or 'quenched' in water in order for it to be worked. The whole process is difficult, time-consuming and dangerous!
In this case, the cup was originally plain silver, but the layer of gilding was added later, probably in the 19th century when the taste of the day preferred this finish. We know this because of the extraordinary survival of a portrait of a boy holding the cup (click here to see the painting ) which shows it in its original state.
Cups like this were not necessarily made to be used. They were often treated as grand display pieces, set up on a cupboard in the dining room to be admired from a distance.
Christian Van Vianen was one of very few goldsmiths who created designs like this, which are known as Auricular, because the fleshy, organic folds and curves of the metal are reminiscent of the cartilage of the human ear. It was a style that was particularly suited to silver, but is also found on objects made in other materials, such as picture frames, in the mid-17th century. Van Vianen was such a brilliant craftsman that he was invited specially by Charles II to leave his home city of Utrecht and come and work at court in London, much to the annoyance of the London goldsmiths, who didn’t like foreign craftsmen taking their work.
The term “goldsmith” is always used, despite the fact that the metal they most often worked in was silver.
1. Discuss with your pupils how easy this cup would be to hold or drink from?
2. Ask the children to imagine being in a goldsmith’s workshop. Do they think it was a clean, quiet place?
3. Think about form and function. Was the goldsmith concerned to make something very practical and functional, or was he more focussed on making something extraordinary and eye-catching? Would the cup have been easy to use or clean? Would the fact that is made from a sheet of metal make it very heavy when full?