Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

English Silver, 1600–1800

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During the period 1600–1800, the production of silver in Great Britain and Ireland served a growing class of people who could afford such objects, from magnificent examples like the ewer and basin illustrated here (68.141.135,136), to more ordinary tablewares and personal items such as punchbowls, spoons, and snuffboxes. Economic, political, and social conditions determined the appearance and cost of silver objects made for domestic, court, and public use. From James I to George III, silver styles reflected the policies and aesthetic preferences of the sovereign: the conservatism of James in a period of high immigration of Protestants from the Continent, bringing with them skills and designs in favor there; the delicate and refined aesthetic sense of Charles I; the puritanical outlook of Oliver Cromwell; the extravagance of Charles II and his protection of Huguenots arriving on English shores often destitute, whom he supported from the privy purse; the classicism of the time of James II, followed by an admixture of Huguenot and Dutch styles that arrived with Mary II and William III; the huge growth of trade with the East; the recovery from the civil wars; and the period of alternating boom and scarcity under the early Hanoverians, George I through III. At the same time, while London set fashions for the court and upper classes, silver continued to be made for people in ordinary walks of life, in styles that changed only slowly, represented by items such as tankards, mugs, candleholders, and the like.


From James I to George III, silver styles reflected the policies and aesthetic preferences of the sovereign.

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Jessie McNab
Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art