Thursday, November 30, 2017

Lord Raby's "Great Silver Wine Cistern," c1705

Thursday, November 30, 2017
Susan reporting,

While my last post featured the now-unknown 18thc child of a soldier living in a military encampment, this post features an 18thc child on the opposite end of the Georgian social ladder. Born into wealth and power, Charles James Fox (1749-1806) was the son of prominent politician Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, and Lady Caroline Lennox Fox, eldest daughter of the Duke of Richmond. Later in life, Charles became a noted statesman in his own right. 

But as a child, Charles was much spoiled by his indulgent parents. One famously appalling incident is recounted in the wonderful biography Aristocrats (by Stella Tillyard, 1994, Noonday Press):

"Once a grand dinner was held at Holland House for some visiting foreign dignitaries. The Fox children were brought in for dessert. Charles, still a toddler in petticoats, said he wanted to bathe in a huge bowl of cream that stood on the table. Despite [his mother's] remonstrances, [his father] ordered the dish to be put down on the floor and there, in full view of some of Europe's most powerful politicians, the little boy slopped and slid to his heart's content in the cool, thick liquid."

I remembered little Charles in the cream when, while wandering on the internet, I came across this splendidly ostentatious silver wine cistern, upper left. A little more sleuthing led me to the publicity photo, bottom left, of a modern toddler named Leo, gleefully emulating young Charles Fox. As you can see from the photo, right, the wine cistern (today it would be called a wine cooler) is enormous. It measures over 51 inches across the top handles and contains over 70 kilograms of sterling silver, and can easily hold more than a dozen bottles of wine. It's also plenty large enough for most any small lordling's impulsive cream baths, and several of his friends, too.  

But the wine cistern wasn't just a costly extravagance. Created in 1705-1706, this "great silver wine cistern" was commissioned by Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby and Ambassador Extraordinary to Berlin between 1706-1701. Lord Raby's post was one of the most important abroad, and the cistern was part of his ambassadorial silver. The ambassador's silver service not only represented the wealth and magnificence of Queen Anne and the country she ruled, but its presence also honored foreign guests and dignitaries at state dinners. Made by Philip Rollos, Sr., in London, the cistern features a pair of patriotic British lions as well as the royal arms and cipher of Queen Anne.

Wine cisterns were the largest pieces in such a service, and so impressive that contemporaries waggishly likened them to boats and coaches. They weren't quite that large, but their size, containing so much silver, meant that some were melted down and remade into other items after the fashion for cisterns had passed. That, added to the fact that relatively few were made to begin with, means that today only a handful still exist. 

Lord Raby's cistern remained in his family for three centuries. It was finally put up for auction in 2010, and was kept from leaving Britain by a fundraising campaign by Leeds Museums and Galleries, augmented with grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. The cistern can now be seen on display at Leed's Temple Newsom House - though cream-bathing is not an option.

For much more about the history of Lord Raby's wine cistern, see the catalogue description by Sotheby's here.

Photos, left, courtesy of Sotheby's.
Photo, right, ©2010 by Clara Molden for The Telegraph.


Hels said...

That is soooo beautiful!!

The Raby cistern is large, heavy, well designed and made from top quality silver. Furthermore it has that elegant, turn-of-the-century, Huguenot-ish taste. But where was Rollos born and trained?

Interesting that Baron Raby was in Berlin at that very time, an important ambassador for the Queen.

Anonymous said...

You may be interested to know that Foxborough MA was named for Charles James Fox. Love all your posts!

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