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Tray

Category

Ceramics

Date

circa 1737 - 1748

Materials

porcelain, underglaze cobalt blue

Measurements

374 x 490 x 45 mm

Place of origin

China

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Collection

Cotehele, Cornwall (Accredited Museum)

On show at

Cotehele, Cornwall, South West, National Trust

NT 347543.1

Caption

This rare porcelain tray was made in China, copied from an engraving, which in turn was copied from a Roman silver platter, known as ‘The Corbridge Lanx'. The lanx was found in 1735 by nine-year old Isabel Cutter, in the banks of the River Tyne, and is a highlight at the British Museum.

Summary

A Jingdezhen porcelain tea tray, underglaze painted in cobalt blue, after 'The Corbridge Lanx', Jiangxi province, China, c.1737-48. Blue and white Chinese export hard paste porcelain tray with design representing the shrine of Apollo at Delos. Copy of 4th century AD silver Roman dish known as 'Corbridge Lanx' which was found by the river Tyne in 1734/5 and presented to the Duke of Somerset. Scene taken from a drawing by William Shaftoe engraved 'J.van der Gucht i 1736'.

Full description

In 1735 a nine-year old girl discovered a curious piece of Roman plate buried in a bank of the River Tyne at Corbridge, Northumberland, a Roman garrison town near Hadrian’s Wall. [1] Identified as a Roman lanx, or platter, of the 4th century AD, it caused immediate excitement among antiquaries and the popular press, where it was described as ‘in shape like a Tea-board’. [2] The richly decorated bas-relief of a hunt suggests that the lanx was intended for ritual offerings or élite feasting. A griffin lies at the feet of Apollo, god of music, who replaces his lyre with a bow. Opposite him, Artemis, the hunter goddess with her hound, is watched by Athena, with two other deities, possibly Ortygia and Leto, seated near a fallen stag. In the background is the Delian shrine, birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. It was only the second lanx found in Britain, and the most spectacular. The River Tyne is on the Alnwick Castle estate, then owned by Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset (1662–1748), of Petworth, West Sussex. During an acrimonious legal battle over its ownership, the lanx was in London in the possession of the antiquarian draughtsman William Shaftoe, who produced several drawings of it. The Duke won his claim, and the lanx was sent to Alnwick Castle, where it remained until 1979, when it was first loaned and then sold to the British Museum. One of Shaftoe’s drawings was engraved to scale by the London engraver and art dealer Gerard van der Gucht, together with notes on the lanx’s dimensions, weight and history, with a dedication to the 6th Duke incorporating his arms (NT 347543.2). The engravings were sold at St Dunstan’s coffee house, Fleet Street, from June 1736. Two Chinese porcelain trays with painted decoration in underglaze blue copying Van der Gucht’s engraving are known, one at Cotehele, the Cornish seat of the earls of Mount Edgcumbe, and the other at Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire, ancestral home of the Irvines, where it is set into a table. [3] Large ceramic trays associated with the English market are rare. They are more commonly found in Scandinavia and France, where large faience trays were inserted into wooden frames for use as practical tea tables. [4] The inclusion of the Duke of Somerset’s arms suggests that he ordered the trays to be made, or that they were ordered on his behalf. [5] An example was at Northumberland House, the 6th Duke’s London home, listed as ‘A China imitation of the antient [sic] piece of plate’ in ‘An account of such things as the Duchess Dowager of Somerset and the young ladies desire may be removed from Northumberland House, January 1748/9’. [6] Its present whereabouts is unknown. [7] The Cotehele tray may have been acquired by George Edgcumbe, 1st Earl of Mount Edgcumbe (1720–95), a friend of the collector Horace Walpole, or his son, Richard Edgcumbe, 2nd Earl (1764–1839), both of whom were Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries. However, the earliest record of it in the house is a paper label on the reverse dated ‘Oct. 15. 1874’ with the history of the Corbridge lanx, probably written by William Henry, 4th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe (1832–1917). The tray was displayed in the China Closet at Cotehele from at least 1894. [8] Notes [1] British Museum, 1993,0401.1 [2] Derby Mercury, 7 April 1735. [3] A.A. Tait, Treasures in Trust (Edinburgh 1981), p. 79. [4] For an English example, see V&A, 3864-1901, and for a French example, see V&A, 422-1870. Between 1738 and 1739, an Aberdeen merchant, Charles Irvine (1693–1771), travelled to China as a supercargo with the Swedish East India Company, affording him the opportunity to commission such an unusual item as private trade: Howard 2003, p. 57, and Leos Müller, ‘Scottish and Irish Entrepreneurs in Eighteenth Century Sweden’, in David Dickson, Ian Parmentier and Jane Ohlmeyer (eds), Irish and Scottish Mercantile Networks in Europe and Overseas in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Ghent, 2007), pp. 147–74, at pp. 154–5. [5] The Chinese painter made two transpositional errors with letters in the family and garter motto. [6] The Archives of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle, Sy: h.iv.1.a-k. [7] The tray was ‘desired’ by Lady Frances Seymour (1728–61), who married John Manners, Marquess of Granby, of Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire. [8] Malan 1894, p. 194. Text adapted from Patricia F. Ferguson, Ceramics: 400 Years of British Collecting in 100 Masterpieces, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2016.

Provenance

Possibly acquired by William 4th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe in 1875. A handwritten label glued to the underside of the dish reads: 'This piece is a copy of the celebrated Corbridge Lanx, a piece of Roman silver plate, weighing [148] oz, found in 1734 near Corbridge in Northumberland a [property owned by the] Duke of Somerset. Mt. E. Oct.15.1875'. Water damage and fading has rendered it partially illegible. [An interpretation of the missing words has been enclosed within square brackets]. In November 1872, the 4th Earl's sister, Lady Ernestine Edgcumbe, was visiting her cousin Carry in Northumberland. They visited Alnwick Castle and Ernestine observed: “I saw the Museum, which contains a number of Roman relics – picked up in this region of the Roman Wall – amongst other a most beautiful gold “plaque” worked in high relief with figures &c. representing an altar and sacrifice. Among other curiosities I observed two Irish horns like what we have at Cotehele, but not in nearly such good preservation.”

Credit line

The Edgcumbe Collection, Cotehele National Trust Collections

References

Ceramics: 400 Years of British Collecting in 100 Masterpieces, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2016, pp. 74-5.

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