THE DUKE OF HAMILTON'S EWER
This shape of vessel was introduced in the 17th century into England and the Netherlands appearing in numerous Dutch still life paintings, such as this painting of 1627 in the Rijksmuseum, by the master of the still life Pieter Claesz. The most significant element is the dragon spout. A number of similar examples are known: the two earliest examples are both dated 1606, one in Parish Church of St Bartholomew, Tong, Shropshire, the other in Parish of Holy Trinity, Hull with dedicatory inscription 'Ex dono Johannis Lister senioris quondam Aldermani et Mercatoris huius ville de Kingston super Hull qui obiit 19 january 1616' and engraved with the arms of Lister. A third example belongs to the Parish of St Mary, Monken Hadley in Hertfordshire and was made in 1609, lightly engraved with the arms of Emerson; the fourth example dated 1610 belongs to the Parish of St Martin, Oxford and is engraved 'For the use of the Lord's table in St. Martin's Church Oxon. The guift of Mr Daniel Hough 1645'.
The similarity of the various examples is striking, given that only two share a maker. Despite the vessels’ ecclesiastical provenance it is often assumed that they were designed for a domestic purpose, carrying either rosewater or possibly wine – a use which transferred seamlessly to the communion table. The form of ewer is of native English design, but heavily influenced by similar silver and pewter examples from Germany and the Low Countries. The plainer, more modest style is in stark contrast to the more ostentatious Tudor and Stuart forbears, making the piece a rare survival, as later collectors tended to favour more ornamental trappings. By the mid-17th century the ewer and basin had become a staple of many aristocratic plate collections, favouring its practicality over the cumbersome double basin, which had been all but relegated to liturgical use.
THE 11TH DUKE OF HAMILTON
The ewer was purchased in 1860 by William Hamilton, 11th Duke of Hamilton (1811-1863), from Thomas M. Whitehead of Duke Street, a dealer noted for his role as agent and supplier to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The 11th Duke had inherited his father’s passion for collecting, as well as the family’s substantial silver collections, much derived from the novelist and collector William Beckford, whose daughter, Susan Euphemia, married the 10th Duke in 1810. The Duke's collecting is the subject of a chapter in Dr. Godfrey Evan's forthcoming book on the Duke's now lost Scottish seat Hamilton Palace.
Born in London and educated at Eton and Oxford, the 11th Duke spent little time in England, choosing largely to reside in his wife’s home town of Baden Baden. His wife, Princess Marie Amelie (1818-1888) was the daughter of Grand Duke Karl Ludwig Friedrich of Baden and Stephanie de Beauharnais, a cousin of Napoleon III. The Dukes of Hamilton had long prized their European connections, and the eleventh duke managed to find a suitable match for his own daughter, Lady Mary Victoria Hamilton, in Prince Albert I of Monaco. When visiting London the duke resided at his luxurious townhouse on Arlington Street, where much of his silver collection was housed. The Charles I ewer was originally sold to Hamilton as a coffee or chocolate pot, and was still referred to as such when Christie’s sought to include it in the Hamilton Palace silver sale of 1919. Its inclusion in the sale was subsequently blocked by the 13th duke’s wife, who was attached to the piece. In 1949 the 14th Duke lent part of his important silver collection – largely amassed by his predecessors – to the Royal Scottish Museum, now National Museums of Scotland. In the 1970s the ewer joined the exhibition. The loan was later returned to the 15th Duke when it was sold to Spink and Son in 1990.