Display was an important part of elegant Georgian dining. Not only did the food have to be properly composed and the conversation scintillating, but every spoon and serving dish was required to show the host's excellent taste. A lavish display of silver and gold plate made a glittering presentation by candlelight, literally reflecting the host's wealth. (Here are some excellent photographs of a splendidly set Regency-era dining table from our friends at Attingham Park.) My favorite fact regarding candlelit dining: a table blazing with candles still only had about as much light as a single 100 watt light bulb. The more gleaming surfaces to reflect that candlelight, the better.
This soup tureen, above, along with other silver, was made c 1737 by London silversmith George Wickes for Thomas Watson-Wentworth (1693-1750), then Earl of Malton, and created 1st Marquess of Rockingham in 1746. A prominent Whig politician, the marquess was enlarging and building his vast Yorkshire country seat, Wentworth Woodhouse, below, and it's likely that this silver was commissioned in anticipation of the level of entertainment planned for the remodeled house.
It's certainly an impressive piece, and I like imagining all the sumptuous meals this tureen must have served. It's large (my guess is about 20 inches long or so) and must be so heavy that, when filled with soup, it would have required a very strong-armed footman to bear it from the kitchen to the table.
The museum placard describes it well: the tureen's "body has the trappings of this opulent style: cast fruit and floral swags on the cover, banded reeding at the body's neck, and legs with lion mask attachments and ball-and-claw feet, as well as other sculptural elements, which not only proclaim Watson's rank but also lend great visual interest. His arms within the collar of the Order of the Bath are applied to either side. His crest of a griffin passant stands atop the cover and, in variant form, serves as the handles for the body."
I wonder if anyone ever noticed the soup?
Top: Soup Tureen, George Wickes, London, 1737-1738, silver. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Below: View of Wentworth Woodhouse by Thomas Allen, c 1828-1830, illustration from A Complete History of the County of York by Thomas Allen.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.