The families of the renowned silversmiths Paul de Lamerie and Paul Revere were among the estimated 200,000 to nearly 1,000,000 Huguenot refugees that fled France when the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes occurred on October 22, 1685. Emigrating to lands near and far, these expatriates brought with them their expertise in a vast number of skilled trades to pass along to future generations. The careers of De Lamerie and Revere were a direct result of this mass exodus. Arguably the most legendary silversmiths of Huguenot descent, their extraordinary legacies in the decorative arts forever changed the course of silver craftsmanship in Britain and America, respectively.
The Edict of Fontainebleau
When King Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes in 1598, he effectively ended the years of religious civil war between Protestants and Catholics and ushered in a period of prosperity and tolerance throughout France. But by the time his grandson King Louis XIV came to power, the lack of a populous unified under one religion was seen as a threat to his autocracy.
The King issued the Edict of Fontainebleau in October of 1685, thereby revoking the protections previously afforded to Huguenots under the law. He ordered the destruction of all Huguenot churches and schools, and gave Protestant clergy two weeks to leave the country.
Though the Edict specifically prohibited lay citizens from leaving France, they did so in droves for fear of execution, among them a vast number of skilled craftsmen that took with them the knowledge of their trade. Refugees, among them the families of de Lamerie and Revere, sought asylum in countries including Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Prussia, but it was England and America that proved to be the most appealing, especially to silversmiths.
Lands of Prosperity
Both England and America were in states of general prosperity at this time. England was at the height of military power and international influence, while the burgeoning New World tempted settlers from all walks of life with both religious freedom and economic possibility. Wealthy patrons in both countries desired to show their affluence with, among other goods, the luxuriousness of silver.
Both countries possessed advantages for the skilled silversmith. In Britain, silver continued to be synonymous with royalty and prestige amongst members of the European elite. In the new colonies, silver allowed those of wealth to save their money given the lack of an organized banking system. It would be in these countries that Paul de Lamerie and Paul Revere would make their mark.
The Genius of Paul de Lamerie
Born in the Netherlands on April 9, 1688, de Lamerie’s father, a minor French Huguenot nobleman named Paul Souchay de la Merie, fled France with his family after the Edict of Fountainebleau was instated. Shortly after their son's birth, the de Lamerie family moved to London settling in the Huguenot refugee community of Soho. At the age of 15, de Lamerie was apprenticed to a well-known Huguenot craftsman, Pierre Platel (Paul Plattell) who proved to be a formidable mentor, providing his young apprentice with a thorough understanding and appreciation of the art of silversmithing. De Lamerie soon realized he possessed a natural talent for the craft, and his skill quickly surpassed even that of his teacher.
Great success pervaded De Lamerie’s career. From 1715 to 1749, he employed 13 apprentices in his prosperous workshop, many assisting in the creation of some of the most exquisite silver works England had ever seen. The silversmith also operated a retail business that included the sale of jewelry and silver under the popular trade name of The Golden Ball.
As word of de Lamerie's skills spread, he began supplying orders to the Russian Imperial Court, English royalty and nobility. By 1723, his esteemed clientele included Sir William Trumbull, Lord Foley, the Countess of Berkeley, Viscount Tyrconnel, Lord Gower, the Earl of Bristol and the Duke of Bedford. His most influential client was Parliamentarian Sir Robert Walpole, who served as the leader of the House of Commons, First Lord of the Treasury, and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Although the title was never official, de Lamerie was often referred to as "the King's Silversmith."
Distinguished among his peers and heralded by noblemen, royalty, and middle-class patrons, his mark on the production and craft of English silver is eternal. Without question, de Lamerie produced the most opulent English Rococo silver ever created. After what his will described as a "long and tedious" illness, de Lamerie died on August 1, 1751.
Today de Lamerie’s pieces rank among the most extraordinary and recognized pieces of any silver collection. Generally, his works are some of the most expensive pieces on the market today, as they are unsurpassed in quality and craftsmanship. De Lamerie’s exquisite silver wares are prized possessions of several museums and decorative art collections including London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, the Royal Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh), London Goldsmith’s Company, the Art Institute of Chicago and The Frick Collection in New York.
The American Patriot Paul Revere, Jr.
Paul Revere’s father was born Apollos Rivoire in 1702, the son of Huguenot refugees. In 1723, at the age of 13, he arrived in Boston with dreams of becoming a silversmith. His uncle had not only sponsored the young immigrant’s trip, but also paid for him to be apprenticed to one of the 30 gold and silversmith masters living in Boston, John Coney. Not long before his apprenticeship was complete, Coney died. It was shortly after that the young silversmith bought his “freedom” to become a full-fledged silversmith and anglicized his name to Paul Revere in 1729.
On December 21, 1734, gifted silversmith and eternal patriot Paul Revere, Jr. was born in North End, Boston. When he came of age, he apprenticed under his father and absorbed everything there was to know about silversmithing. Shortly after his father's passing in 1754 and being too young to assume mastership of his father's shop, the young silversmith enlisted in the army serving in the American theater of the Seven Years' War. This military experience, combined with his chosen trade allowed him to form friendships with many influential people throughout Boston, friendships that would serve him well during the American Revolution.
Revere patriotism and his contribution to the American decorative arts is of inestimable value. He was immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere which tells of how he heroically rode through the countryside warning of the approaching British troops. This legendary event, along with his extraordinary work as a silversmith, has left a lasting legacy for Revere.
In addition to his participation in Boston's Revolutionary movement, Revere's accomplishments during his lifetime were numerous. He practiced dentistry, operated a hardware store, gained popularity as a political caricaturist, designed and printed the Continental currency, and was a talented engraver. In fact, Revere was among the very few American silversmiths who had the talent to actually complete a piece of silver from start to finish, including the engraving.
In 1768, the eve of the American Revolution, Revere crafted the most celebrated work of American silver, the “Sons of Liberty Bowl,” now housed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Revere’s remarkable silver can also be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Worchester Art Museum in Massachusetts and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. After serving his country during the American Revolution, Revere resumed his role at the forefront of American silver producing elegant pitchers, bowls, sauceboats, teapots and creamers crafted largely in the Neoclassical style.
Paul de Lamerie and Paul Revere forever changed the face of both silversmithing, and in some cases, the course of world history. Clearly, the landscape of both British and American silver would be far from what we know today without the contributions of these legendary Huguenot silversmiths.