Old Silver - National Museum in Szczecin Poland

The exhibition presents goldsmithry and silversmithry wares from the collection of the National Museum in Szczecin. The layout of the exhibition makes it possible to look through fashions and trends in European goldsmithry and silversmithry from the middle ages to Art Nouveau. Beautiful objects made of precious metals are testimony to outstanding skills of old masters.

The oldest relic is a legendary gold ring (signet) from Pęzino (Western Pomerania) from ca. 1200 – with a knight image and still not decoded inscription. Among the oldest artworks on display, there are vessels and liturgical objects from Western Pomerania. Rich late-Renaissance ornamentation distinguishes a chalice from 1598, made by unknown master from Stargard, signing his works with a TK monogram. High artistic level characterizes also a pyx from 1615 and a sacramental wine jug by Johann Schambach from middle 17th century, artworks founded by Szczecin bourgeoise and made by local goldsmiths.

The exhibition includes also two 17th century shell cups. This type of objects did not have utilitary charcater, but was a decoration of private art collections, as evidence of the owners’ wealth and high social status. Silver cups were also made for wealthy craft guilds. An example of such a vessel is a cup (so-called Willkomm) of 1757 by Michael Gottlieb Culmann, a master of Elbląg. Cups of sophisticated, frequently symbolic, forms played also important role in Baroque ceremonies. Examples of this type of vessels are, popular in southern Germany at the turn of the 16th and the 17th centuries, wedding cups of a slightly frivolous character, in the shape of a richly dressed lady holding a goblet in raised hands. Her skirt, after turning the cup upside-down, became a cup for the groom, and the bride drank from the smaller goblet. The Szczecin collection owes an outstanding imitation of this kind of cup from the second half of the 19th century.

The largest group of exhibitis are silver tablewares. A distinctive relic among them is a Rococo tureen by Johann Jacob Sandrart II, from 1760s. It is one of the most beautiful works of Berlin goldsmithry of that period. Fluent, nearly organic main body is wrapped in vivid grapevine branches made with the use of casting and repoussage techniques. Tureens played a special role among 18th-century tableware, becoming, in the middle of the century, main and the most decorative elements of the sets.

In late 18th century Rococo splendour was gradually replaced by simple classical forms, with ornamentation modelled after ancient art. Beautiful shape, referring to ancient vase, distinguishes a sugar basin from Szczecin by Martin Ephraim Voggelaer from 1795. Other noteworthy items are completely undecorated vessels, influencing the spectator only with noble proportions, like square bowl by famous Warsaw master J.J. Bandau II from early 19th century.

In the first half of the 19th century, European goldsmithry began to undergo large-scale changes which resulted in turning handicraft into considerably mechanized process. The possibility to produce silver wares of thin, die-cut plate with relatively low cost influenced the spread of silverware among wide burgeois population. To meet the needs of new customers, the manufacturers produced mainly coffee and tea sets, spice utensils, cutlery and fruit or cake vessels and baskets. Silverware of the second half of the 19th century impress with abundance and diversity of forms of decorations and shapes. Their creators consciously referred to the styles of past ages – most of all Rococo, but also Renaissance and Gothic. Sometimes they joined decorations of various periods. Exceptional perfection in imitating works by old masters characterized goldsmithry workshops in Hanau, products of which can be seen at the exhibition.

A separate group of exhibits are Russian silver wares. Interest of the history of the 19th century brought Russia a re-bloom of old techniques: enamel and niello, and a turn towards local forms and motives. A spread of so-called Old-Russian style, referring to the art of old Russia, was influenced by, among others, activity of Pavel Ovchinnikov’s Moscow company. The collection of Szczecin owes a large decorative vase produced by his workshop. It has a typical Russian form of kovsh – a boat-shaped vodka drinking vessel. The exhibition includes also a small kovsh made in early 20th century by Nikolai Zverev from Moscow, richly ornamented with enamel on filigree.

At the end of the 19th century, decorative art began to resign from copying old styles and tend to work out new rules of shaping the object. Artworks designed in the spirit of new style – Art Nouveau – were characterized by limited flexibility of forms and rich floral ornamentation. The visitors of the exhibition may see, among others, a number of extraordinary Art Nouveau candlesticks made by renown German P. Bruckmann & Söhne Company.