Pivotal provenance, breathtaking workmanship and exceptional rarity make these majestic silver gilt salvers by Elkington & Co. true museum-quality masterpieces. Their incredible high-relief motifs depicting the classical muses of Poetry and Music are uncanny in their similarities to those created in the same timeframe by Elkington's most renowned goldsmith and designer, Léonard Morel-Ladeuil, who is known to have created only 35 masterworks during his professional career. Amplifying the importance of these salvers is the presence of the monogram "EO de R", a cipher engraved upon the personal objects belonging to the legendary Rothschild family.
The most successful and accomplished gold and silver designers of the 19th century were French, and Ladeuil, in particular, was regarded as the greatest living practitioner of his craft. He was trained by the famed French silversmith Antoine Vechte, from whom he learned the art of repoussé that is so eloquently showcased in these salvers. Measuring nearly two feet in diameter, the trays feature a distinctive Renaissance-inspired theme of Poetry and Music. Their styling and workmanship, particularly the circular scenes in the center, are nearly identical to Ladeuil's famed Helicon Vase, which was given to Queen Victoria by her household on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee in 1887. That centerpiece was originally displayed by Elkington & Co. at the Vienna International Exhibition of 1873, an event at which the firm gained considerable praise, particularly for the masterworks executed by Ladeuil's hand. The Helicon centerpiece is now part of the British Royal Collection Trust.
Ladeuil began working for Elkington in 1859, very soon after he gained his freedom from apprenticeship. The firm's primary objective for the gifted artisan was utilizing his talents to create grand, intricate works to be displayed at exhibitions and for only the most important special commissions. The designer and goldsmith's subject of choice for his works were based upon the themes of antiquity, each executed with an amazing level of precision and eye for detail known to only true masters of gold and silversmithing.
It is no surprise that the work of such a respected and talented craftsman would attract the attention of the iconic Rothschild family. It is known that Elkington created specially commissioned wares for the family, including an extensive Victorian silver flatware service that bears the very same cipher present upon the present salvers. (Christie's London, November 25, 2003, Lot 339) The English branch of the illustrious Rothschild banking family was founded in 1798 by Nathan Mayer von Rothschild, who was one of five brothers sent to cities across Europe by their father, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, in the hopes of establishing a banking empire. Known for their impeccable taste as well as for their financial genius, the Rothschilds have built what many consider to be one of the most impressive art collections in the world. Their palatial homes have housed some of the finest artwork, as well as silver, porcelain, and even butterflies and stamps. These remarkable salvars are an excellent example of the Rothschild eye for quality and design.
Since the majority of Elkington's output was intended to bolster the importance of their prized electroplating process, few of the mere 35 Ladeuil creations are made entirely of sterling silver, further increasing the importance of these salvers. Today, Ladeuil's works are prominently displayed in the following prestigious museums and collections:
Victoria & Albert Museum – Milton Shield, damascened steel and silver; The Pompeian Lady, copper, silver and gold
The British Royal Collection Trust – The Helicon Vase, damascened with silver, gold and iron
Musée d'Orsay – Milton Shield (mate to the V&A shield), damascened steel and silver
Los Angeles County Museum of Art – Tazza, silver gilt; Milton Shield, damascened steel and silver
Hallmarked Birmingham, 1889
22 1/4" diameter