The arms are those of Whitworth with Cope in pretence as borne by Charles, 1st Earl Whitworth (1752-1825)
The lure of classical antiquity during the Regency era is reflected in both the form and iconography of these vases. The coolers' form draws upon the famous Medici Krater, engraved by Piranesi in Vasi, Candelabri, etc. of 1778, whose illustrations provided a fresh vocabulary to silver designers.
The ram's-mask handles and grapevine festoons clearly evoke the Roman wine god Bacchus, an allusion to the coolers' function. As a child, the son of Zeus and Semele was transformed into a ram to evade the vengeful wrath of Zeus's wife, Hera. With his true identity hidden, Bacchus was raised by nymphs on Mount Nysa, where he invented wine.
The use of gilding on these wine coolers not only reflects the extravagance of the Regency period, but also is another direct reference to antiquity. As art historian Ubaldo Vitali has noted, neoclassical artists and scholars of the late 18th century imagined the splendors of Imperial Rome awash in a golden aura; its greatest embodiment was Nero's house of gold, the Domus Aurea. Eager to symbolize notions of their own imperial stature, Napoleon, the Prince Regent and their courts readily adopted the fashion for gilding silver in the classical style.
The present coolers were commissioned by Charles, Earl Whitworth in 1813, the year he was appointed Viceroy of Ireland after a notable diplomatic career in the Polish, Russian, Danish and French courts. In 1801 he had married Arabella Diana, widow of John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset. Penzer recorded a total of eight wine coolers of this design at Knole, seat of the Dukes of Dorset. Two dating to 1812 and two to 1813 do not bear engraved armorials. The present set of four, engraved with the Earl's armorials, remained at Knole until sold by the Trustees in 1987.
A pair of Storr wine coolers of the same design and year sold on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, Christie's, New York, January 10, 1991, lot 37.