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Bottle Cistern

Robert Cooper (fl.1670 - 1717)

Category

Silver

Date

1680 - 1681

Materials

Silver

Measurements

241 x 695 x 600 mm

Place of origin

London

Order this image

Collection

Ickworth, Suffolk

NT 852068

Caption

This great wine cistern of 1680 is by Robert Cooper and was originally the property of Baptist May, confidant of Charles II, and a second-hand purchase by the 1st Earl of Bristol. It is the earliest surviving piece of silver at Ickworth and one of the earliest silver cisterns still in existence.

Summary

Sterling silver bottle cistern. Robert Cooper, London, 1680/1. The large oval body is raised from a single sheet of silver, the bulbous lower part being chased to form broad, outward-facing flutes with flat, matted borders and separated from each other by thin, vertical concave flutes. In the upper interstices are chased acanthus leaves and forming the neck of the cistern is a broad band of trailing foliage with flowers and grapes carried by four putti, chased to be read on the interior. Further floral bands with matted grounds, divided into four by classical female masks, are chased into the flat rim which is bounded by a heavy reed and tie moulding soldered and riveted to the outer edge. Cast lion masks are set at either, narrow end of the exterior and hold in their mouths the pivot pins of the C-shaped swing handles, also cast, each of which has a winged cherub’s face with foliage above and pairs of outward facing scrolls designed to stop the handles against the lion masks when the cistern is carried. The cistern is raised on four scroll and dolphin feet, each cast in two parts with a beaded foliage strip soldered down the front to disguise the joint. Heraldry: The floor of the cistern has been re-engraved c.1751 with the quartered shield, supporters and motto of the 2nd Earl of Bristol in an ermine mantling and beneath an earl’s coronet.

Full description

Cisterns associated with the service of wine at a meal have been in existence in Europe since at least the 14th century and have been made of marble, pewter, copper and brass as well as silver. None in silver from England is known to survive from before the Restoration but there was then a comparative surge in their production and there are at least sixteen surviving which were made up to the end of William III’s reign.[1] Of these nine are of a comparable scale and weight to that at Ickworth and three are around fifty percent bigger, and quadruple the weight. The larger cisterns were undoubtedly intended to rest on the floor and to act as coolers for bottles, being filled with water for the purpose. A number of paintings from the 17th and early 18th centuries show them in use in this way including Jan Baptist van Meunincxhove’s 1671 depiction of the guild banquet given to Charles II and the Duke of Gloucester in Bruges on the 2nd October, 1656 (Groeningemuseum, Bruge). This shows a lobed silver-gilt vessel of broadly the same pattern as the Ickworth cistern, filled with water and containing what are probably a silver wine bottle and a gilt water ewer. Six of the smaller cisterns from the period have contemporary silver water fountains associated with them and were intended to be used ‘to wash glasses in’, as stated to be the case in the 18th century inventory reference to the Rollos cistern of 1701 at Dunham Massey (932550).[2] As such they would have been raised above the floor and placed directly beneath the tap of the fountain, putting them at eye level to those sitting at the dining table. The Ickworth cistern, however, with its elaborately decorated neck being chased to be viewed on the inside, must have been intended to be seen from above and thus to have been placed on or just above the floor. It is therefore likely to have been designed primarily as a ‘bottle cistern’, the term used for the larger of the Dunham Massey duo (932524), and the same must be the case for the similarly scaled and decorated cistern of 1694 by George Garthorne in the collection of the Bank of England. It is quite understandable that silversmiths supplied smaller versions of the monsters required by such princes of the aristocracy as the 1st Duke of Rutland, whose bottle cistern of 1681, also by Robert Cooper (Belvoir Castle) and of the same basic model as those at Ickworth and the Bank of England, weighs just under 2,000 ounces. That supplied in 1687 to the future 1st Duke of Devonshire, which does not survive, was perhaps the greatest of all in the late 17th century, weighing 3,496 ounces and costing £1,223 12s.[3] Lesser noblemen, the gentry and merchants would not have had the wealth to support such purchases and nor would their scale of dining have required anything so grandiose. The original owner of the Ickworth cistern was Baptist May (1628-1697), a prominent Restoration courtier whose sister Isabella, Lady Hervey, was the mother of the 1st Earl of Bristol. May’s father, Sir Humphrey, had been Vice-Chamberlain to the Household of Charles I and Baptist told Gilbert Burnet that he had been ‘bred about the king [Charles II] since he was a child’. In 1662 he became one of the Duke of York’s grooms of the bedchamber and in 1665 he was elevated to Keeper of the Privy Purse to Charles II. Thereafter he was one of the King’s most trusted courtiers in spite of being a staunch Protestant and demonstrating an aptitude for tactlessness, most famously when he welcomed the effects of the Great Fire of London. Bishop Burnet summed up his contribution as follows: 'he had the greatest and longest share in the king's secret confidence of any man in that time; for it was never broke off, though often shaken, he being in his notions against every thing that the king was for, both France, popery, and arbitrary government: but a particular sympathy of temper, and his serving the king in his vices, created a confidence much envied, and often attempted to be broke, but never with any success beyond a short coldness.' On the accession of James II May was dismissed from the keepership but retained his other office, Ranger of Windsor Great Park, and resided in the official residence, the Great Lodge (subsequently Cumberland Lodge), until his death on the 2nd March, 1697.[4] John Hervey (the future Earl of Bristol) made a note in his diary of his uncle’s death and subsequent burial in St George’s Chapel, Windsor and within two months he had acquired a large quantity of silver from May’s estate, as recorded in his accounts: 'May 7 [1697] Paid Mr Duncombe & Mr Pigeon (as Execs: of Mr Bapt May) for a large silver Cystern, 2 Dozen of nurld plates, 1 large Cup & Cover, 1 Bason, 1 Chamber pott, 1 Ladle & 1 Skimer, all weighing – 1128 ounces 15 peny weight which at 5s:4d p ounce came to 301 £' [5] His motive for doing so was not family loyalty but sound economics for he thereby made a considerable saving on commissioning new pieces and he was actually paying less than the worth of the raw material which he could be sure would hold its value as it was inextricably linked to the coin of the realm. The cistern would, according to the evidence of that by Robert Cooper at Belvoir, have cost Hervey 6s 2d per ounce if made new, or £98, and, at 5s 4d, he paid just £83 4s 5d.[6] Furthermore, though no longer at the cutting edge of fashion it was by no means outdated as is shown by the commissioning just three years earlier of the remarkably similar Garthorne cistern, now in the Bank of England. There is no evidence from his accounts that Lord Bristol ever purchased either a water fountain or a ‘washer’ in silver and these items to make up the trio for the service of wine would have become increasingly necessary as his social position and involvement in politics progressed in the first decades of the 18th century. It is possible that he had inherited suitable items from his father on his death in 1694 but if not he may only ever have had the two missing components in silvered or japanned brass or copper. Robert Cooper, who gained his freedom in 1670 and seems to have been working independently from about 1675, was one of the most prominent of native born silversmiths in the latter half of Charles II’s reign. He created major pieces of plate for significant courtiers, including the cisterns for May and the 8th Earl (subsequently 1st Duke) of Rutland, and amongst commissions from the goldsmith banker Richard Hoare was the alteration and refurbishment in 1685 of several items for Samuel Pepys.[7] Other fine display pieces followed, including a pair of gadrooned sideboard dishes of 1687 in the Ashmolean Museum and a ewer and basin of 1691 and 1693 in the National Museum of Wales. No more cisterns by him are known, however, and the lack of stylistic flair in a ewer of 1702 [8] suggests that he did not manage to keep pace with his increasingly successful and well established Huguenot rivals. Amongst his later commissions is a substantial oblong salver of 1712, subsequently engraved with the arms of the 1st Earl of Bristol but no longer in the collection. James Rothwell, Decorative Arts CuratorMarch 2019[Adapted from James Rothwell, Silver for Entertaining: The Ickworth Collection, London 2017, cat. 1, pp. 64-7]Notes:[1] N. M. Penzer, 'The Great Wine Coolers', Parts I & II, Apollo, vol. 65 (1957), pp. 39-43 and 133-137; Margaret Jourdain, 'Cisterns, wine coolers and cellarets', Country Life, (12 June 1926), pp. 853-4. [2] The cisterns with associated contemporary fountains are that of 1670 by ‘IC’ bearing the arms of the 2nd Earl of Chesterfield (private collection), the pair by Ralph Leake of 1698 from Kedleston (now V & A and Goldsmiths Company; one of the fountains at the Goldsmiths Company, the other at the Getty Museum, California), the pair by David Willaume of 1700 at Boughton House, Northamptonshire and that by Pierre Harache of 1700 at Althorp, Northamptonshire. The fountain which goes with the Rollos cistern of 1701 at Dunham Massey was not supplied until 1729 (Goldsmiths' Company, on loan to Dunham Massey).[3] J. F. Hayward, Huguenot Silver in England 1688-1727, London 1959, p. 76. [4] Andrew Barclay, ‘May, Baptist (bap. 1628, d. 1697)’, ODNP; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18418, accessed 16 Oct 2015].[5] Suffolk Record Office, 941/46/13 1st Earl of Bristol’s expenses and diary 1688-1742.[6] Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire (guide book), n.d. (c. 1990), pp. 16-17, ill.[7] Arthur Grimwade, London Goldsmiths 1697-1837, London 1974, p. 472.[8] Vanessa Brett, The Sotheby's Directory of Silver 1600-1940, London 1986, p. 153.

Provenance

Baptist May; bought from his executors by John Hervey (subsequently Lord Hervey and 1st Earl of Bristol) 7 May 1697; by descent to the 4th Marquess of Bristol. Accepted in lieu of death duties by HM Treasury in 1956 following the death of the 4th Marquess of Bristol. Loaned to the National Trust in 1956 under the auspices of the National Land Fund, later the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and then transferred to the National Trust in 1983.

Credit line

Ickworth, the Bristol Collection (National Trust)

Marks and inscriptions

Underside: Fully marked with maker’s mark ‘RC’ in dotted circle, leopard’s head crowned, lion passant, date letter ‘c’. Scratchweight '314[t oz] = 15 [dwt]. Scratchweight: ‘314=15’

Makers and roles

Robert Cooper (fl.1670 - 1717), goldsmith

References

James Rothwell, Silver for Entertaining: The Ickworth Collection. Philip Wilson Publishers, 2016, pp. 64-7

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