• Centuries of Style: Silver, Eu auction at Christies

    Sale 7800

    Centuries of Style: Silver, European Ceramics, Portrait Miniatures and Gold Boxes

    17 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 277




    Price Realised  



    Each on three matted claw feet with fluted knees above supporting a broad detachable circular plate chased with palm foliage border and inner bands of arcading and alternate panels of differing formal foliage, the detachable fluted stem rising from fluted plinth and of shaped square section, the detachable baluster upper part of the stem and vase-shaped socket chased with further bands of fluting and varying foliage, the detachable circular wax-pan with fluted and ovolo bands, fully marked on lower plates, part-marked on reverse of sockets and on wax-pans
    21 3/8 in. (54.3 cm.) high
    85 oz. 10 dwt. (2,020 gr.) (2)

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    Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803)

    Sir William was a passionate collector of antiquities but also one who 'took seriously his part in the traditional role of the enlightened British aristocracy as patrons of the arts and as promoters of good taste in contemporary manufacture. The sale of the first collection to the British Museum in 1772 was more than a mere financial transaction, for it formed part of a life long mission to raise British, indeed European consciousness in what are now called the decorative arts.' (I. Jenkins " 'Contemporary Minds' Sir William Hamilton's affair with Antiquity", in the exhibition catalogue, Vases and Volcanoes, London, 1996, p. 59). Apart from his collections of Greek and Roman vases, cameos and bronzes Sir William also owned, at least for a short time, the celebrated Portland and Warwick Vases.

    He applied for his official position in Naples largely in the hope that it would be beneficial for his wife, Catherine's health. While there they naturally played host to a stream of wealthy and artistic visitors from across Europe which included Mozart and Goethe as well as his second cousin, William Beckford in 1780 and, shortly before Lady Hamilton's death, again in the summer of 1782. A year after Hamilton's return to England in 1799 he, his second wife, Emma and Admiral Lord Nelson spent Christmas as Beckford's guests at Fonthill. Only the St. Michael Gallery had been completed but the effect must have been breathtaking, 'illuminated', as it was, 'with a grand display of wax lights, on candlesticks and candelabras of massive silver-gilt exhibiting a scene at once strikingly splendid and awfully magnificent' (The Gentleman's Magazine, LXXI, p.298).

    Charles Aldridge, the Silversmith (w. 1766-1793)

    Normally one would expect the silversmith to use a print source for the design of such unusual objects and several illustrations of Roman lampstands from the second half of the 18th century are known, most notably those that appear in the last of eight volumes of Le Antichitá di Ercolano Esposte, Naples, 1757-92. Indeed, a generation after these candlesticks were made, a pair of ormolu torchéres, now in the Royal collection, were supplied to the Prince Regent. They are described in Rundell's bill of 1811 as being 'after those found in the ruins of Herculaneum' and are based on two images illustrated in this important work (pl. LXXI, the base on p. 77, the socket on p. 92; the Regency torchéres are illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, Carlton House, The Past Glories of George IV's Palace, London, 1991-2 p. 91, no. 43). However, the present candlesticks appear to be based directly on the original Roman bronze lampstand which was available of course as a prototype for study at the British Museum in London.

    The silversmith Charles Aldridge was apprenticed to Edward Aldridge, presumed to be his uncle, in 1758. He entered his first mark in partnership with Henry Green in 1775 and a second mark alone in 1786. He has followed faithfully the ornament of the Roman original in producing these candlesticks, which are almost exactly a third of the size of the prototype. Allowing for the change of use to a candlestick, the construction with detachable tripod foot, circular plate, distinctive fluted and fourfold stem of cross-shape section and detachable crater-shaped top also follows that of the Hamilton lampstand. The main variations are in the feet that have metamorphosed from lions' paws to lizards' claws and their profile which has been altered, presumably because of the lighter load they have to carry in the 18th century version. In addition an extra baluster has been removed beneath the socket and the flat top of the original has been replaced by a detachable nozzle to reflect the change of function.

    Charles Aldridge is not particularly noted for the originality of his designs. Much more typical of his work is the teapot he made with Henry Green for William Beckford in 1782 now at Brodick Castle (T. Schroder, et al, Beckford and Hamilton Silver from Brodick Castle, London, 1980, no. B11). It is also of interest that the maker James Aldridge who produced so many of the most imaginative mounted pieces for Beckford from circa 1815-1823 was apprenticed, and surely related, to Charles Aldridge.

    William Beckford (1760-1844)

    William Beckford and the silver he ordered has been studied in great detail by Michael Snodin and Malcolm Baker (op. cit.) and the former in 'William Beckford and Metalwork' in the exhibition catalogue William Beckford 1760-1844, An Eye for the Magnificent, New York, 2001, pp. 203-215. His early purchases tend to be standard if sometimes exceptionally well-designed examples of domestic silver which he seems frequently to have taken with him on his extensive travels. While Beckford was mainly in Lisbon in 1787 it is known that a considerable amount of furnishing was underway at Fonthill House, later known as Fonthill Splendens, that summer being mainly designed by the architect John Soane (William Beckford, 1760-1844, op. cit. p.60).

    It seems reasonable to assume that Beckford, given the extraordinary originality of his later silver purchases, specially commissioned these remarkable candlesticks rather than acquiring them second hand. Even without the Beckford connection these candlesticks are of exceptional interest. They are based directly on an identifiable object sold with the intention of providing prototypes to the artists and artisans of his day, by Sir William Hamilton in 1772 to the British Museum where it still remains.


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    William Beckford, MAGNIFICENT EFFECTS AT FONTHILL ABBEY, WILTS; Christie's, 8-17 October 1822 (sale cancelled), either Lot 44 or 45:

    44. A PAIR of CANDELABRA of SILVER CHASED and GILT, supported on feet shaped as Lizards

    These superb pieces of Plate are truly in classical taste, being executed from the design of a candelabrum found at HERCULANEUM

    45. A PAIR of DITTO

    William Beckford, The Unique and Splendid effects of Fonthill Abbey; the extensive assemblage of costly and interesting property, which adorns this magnificent structure; Phillips, 23 September-22 October, 1823, either lot 1544 or 1545, with almost identical descriptions and footnote to those in the Christie's catalogue above, located in The Grand (Damask) Drawing Room, No. 24 and sold as one lot for £105.15 to Broadway.
    One pair of the two above:
    Richard Plantagenet Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1823-1889).
    The contents of STOWE HOUSE, near Buckingham, Christie's 15 August-30 September, 1848, lot 783, under the heading GILT

    783. A pair of very elegant candelabra, on tripod feet-after those from Herculaneum-from Fonthill 86 ozs. (£98.18s to ?Nathan Jnr.).


    M. Snodin and M. Baker, 'William Beckford's Silver II,' The Burlington Magazine, December, 1980, p. 827, under the heading 'English Silver probably or certainly contemporary', no. E3 where the buyer at the Stowe sale is given as S. Peto, M.P.


    The Roman original (British Museum Reg.1772.3-4.59) is discussed in:

    P. F. d'Hancarville. MS Catalogue des antiquités recueillies, depuis l'an 1764 jusque vers le milieu de l'année 1776 par Mr. Le Chevalier Guillaume Hamilton, acquises par Acte du Parlement en 1772 et maintenant déposéés dans le Muséum Britannique, London 1778, vol. 1, p. 301A.
    E. Hawkins, MS Catalogue of the Bronzes in the British Museum, vol. III, p. 166.
    D. Bailey, et al, A Catalogue of the Lamps in the British Museum, London, 1996, vol. IV, pp. 91-2, no. Q. 3867, pls. 102 and 103 (schematic drawing).

    d'Hancerville (op. cit.) says, in translation, of the original Roman lampstand, which he calls a candelabrum 'close to six foot high', that 'there does not exist at Herculanum [sic] any other as beautiful, nor one which is more perfectly conserved.' This is included in a list in two volumes of the first collection of antiquities formed by Sir William Hamilton, envoy to the Court of Naples from 1764-1800, which was sold to the newly established British Museum following an act of Parliament in 1772 to raise the £8,400 necessary for the purchase.