This candelabrum centrepiece is one of four known examples all marked by Philip Cornman and based on the designs of Charles Heathcote Tatham. Tatham was one of the leading exponents of the imitative classicism of the turn of the nineteenth century and the move towards more monumental plate. In the introduction to Designs for Ornamental Plate, published in 1806, he wrote "It has been much lamented...that modern plate has much fallen off both in design and in execution...instead of Massiveness, the principal characteristic of good Plate, light and insignificant forms have prevailed...." Unlike Adam, whose "snippets of embroidery" Horace Walpole had so deplored, Tatham's classicism is based directly on Greek and Roman prototypes. "The Works of the Ancients are a MAP TO THE STUDY OF NATURE--they teach us what objects we are to select for imitation and, the method in which they may be combined for effect" he had written in his Ancient and Ornamental Architecture at Rome and Italy, published in 1799.
The design of this centrepiece combines elements from Tatham's published drawing of a centerpiece for the 5th Earl of Carlisle and a silver-gilt candelabrum signed by Tatham, made by William Pitts in 1800 (illustrated in A. G. Grimwade, "Silver at Althorp," Connoisseur, March 1963, fig. 8, p. 165.) The essential form, with its tripod base, three double-light branches, and central shallow circular bowl, is that of the Carlisle centrepiece, appearing in Designs for Ornamental Plate with the caption "A Piece of Plate designed and executed in Silver for the Earl of Carlisle in the year 1801." The treatment of the pedestal, with its wavy waterleaf decoration above a calyx of scrolling acanthus leaves, is closely related to the pedestal support on Tatham's Althorp candelabrum, which apparently derives from the ancient Barberini candelabrum, drawn and published by Tatham in 1795 (illustrated in David Udy, "The Influence of Charles Heathcote Tatham," Proceedings of the Society of Silver Collectors, Autumn 1975, p. 105.) The three other similar centrepieces by Cornman, all bearing the inscription of the retailers Rundell and Bridge, comprise an example of 1806 (illustrated in Udy, op. cit., fig. 163), an example of 1803 (illustrated Sotheby's London, February 5, 1987, lot 152), and another example, part of a dessert-service of 1806, which represents an adaptation of Tatham's design by Jean-Jacques Boileau, who also designed silver in this period (illustrated in Hilary Young, "A Further Note on J.J. Boileau, A Forgotten Designer of Silver," Apollo, October 1986, fig. 6, p. 337; sold Christie's London, June 24, 1981, lots 22-24.)
The mark of Philip Cornman (d. 1822), who was trained as a sculptor and goldsmith, is rare, appearing only on the four above centerpieces, a pair of compotes (Sotheby's London, February 23, 1967, lot 150), two Warwick vases (for one see lot 90), and on a magnificent eight-piece Royal communion service of 1802 and 1803 for the Metropolitan Church at Quebec. This service, supplied by Rundell's, was made by Cornman to designs by Boileau and is illustrated and discussed by Arthur Grimwade in "New Light on Canadian Treasure" Country Life, January 31, 1985, pp. 268-273. Of Cornman, who is listed in the London Postal Directory after 1820 as "Cornman Son & Bridges," Grimwade writes that he "progressed from modest beginnings to considerable status to be commissioned by Rundell and Bridge....It seems strange that...so little silver bearing the mark has survived. It is possible, of course, that they [Cornman and Son] continued to work for Rundell, Bridge and Rundell under John Bridge's mark and that this is the explanation of the additional name of Bridges in the directories from 1820, which might suggest that the royal firm had a financial stake in the Cornman business. Whatever the relationship between Cornman and Rundells, we can point to a plateworker of hitherto unsuspected accomplishment". Evidence suggests that Cornman also had a personal relationship with Tatham, aside from his obvious familiarity with Tatham's published works. One of Cornman's exhibits of wax models at the Royal Academy included a portrait of the 5th of Earl of Carlisle, Tatham's patron for the original drawing of this centrepiece design (see Young, op. cit., p. 336).
This centrepiece epitomizes the rage for Egyptian styles that swept France and England following Napoleon's Egyptian campaign of 1798. Dominique Vivant Denon's publication Voyages dans la Basse et la Haute Egypt of 1802 fostered romantic notions of ancient Egypt and a fascination for Egyptian artefacts, which influenced the designs of Percier & Fontaine in Paris and Thomas Hope in London, among many others. The figure of the sphinx best symbolized Egyptian exoticism, and an example in silver by Charles Percier deserves comparison with the sphinxes on this centrepiece. Hilary Young has suggested that Tatham drew upon Percier & Fontaine's Recueil de Décorations Interieures of 1801 for the Egyptian details on his work, (Young, op. cit., fig. 3), and the sphinxes on this centrepiece certainly support this theory.