Private Collection of German Silver

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These fountains and basins belong to a large silver service made between 1705 and 1725 for the royal Hanover family of Germany. One fountain and its accompanying basin were commissioned by George Louis, prince-elector of Hanover (1660–1727) before he became George I of Great Britain in 1714. Both pieces were made by Lewin Dedeke, a master silversmith in Celle in Lower Saxony before becoming the royal goldsmith at the court of Hanover in 1697. The second pair was commissioned a few years later by George Louis’s younger brother Ernest Augustus (1674–1728), Prince Bishop of Osnabrück, who in 1716 became Britain’s Duke of York. The prince commissioned the additional pieces in the service from Johann Wilhelm Voigt I, of Osnabrück, one of his regular suppliers of metalwork. Ernest Augustus’s coat of arms has been applied on each piece while the crest of George Louis is engraved only on the basin made by Dedeke.

During formal banquets hosted by the Hanover family, such pieces were placed on side tables adorned with towering displays of silver that could reach more than twenty feet in height. While the uppermost platters in such a presentation would have been largely decorative, the functional pieces near the bottom were accessible for use. The fountains held water, which was used either to rinse glasses or to cool the beverages stored in the basins below.

Divorced from such elaborately staged displays, the vessels are today impressive for their simple yet monumental shapes and powerful decorative ornaments. The forms were based on ancient vessels while the friezes of gadroons and acanthus leaves around the bases and tops were inspired by classical architecture. Other ornamentation, such as the lion-head handles and the lion and unicorn finials, was derived from royal insignia. These imposing vessels hint at the grandeur and ceremony that characterized royal feasts in eighteenth-century Germany.