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Indepth Arts News:

"The Huguenot Legacy: English Silver 1680-1760"
1999-09-18 until 1999-11-28
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Indianapolis, IN, USA United States of America

Caught up in the elegant scrolls and sinuous curves of more than 100 works of silver you will find the story of two peoples: Huguenot silversmiths--refugees who left their French homeland because of religious persecution--and the English aristocrats whose passion for French style and fine craftsmanship supported these silversmiths in a foreign land. Political events of the 17th century brought these two groups together, and their interaction sparked a revolution in the style and quality of English silver.

The Designers

The Huguenots, French Protestants, were protected from the religious persecution of Catholic rulers until Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Edict had given the Huguenots a certain amount of religious freedom in France. Many fled to the northern European countries until the arrival of William of Orange in England in 1688. Like the Huguenots, William was also an immigrant and a Protestant. Understanding their plight, he issued a proclamation encouraging Huguenot settlement in England. Among the Huguenots who immigrated were some of the finest silversmiths of their time. Many who settled in London had been trained in the latest French court styles. Their skills and styles were passed on to their descendants who continued to influence silversmithing into the 1760s.

The Importance of Silver During the Huguenot period, England was an extremely prosperous nation. The combination of a thriving English economy and a huge quantity of available silver increased the demand for silver as both displays of wealth and of physical assets. English gentlemen were expected to display their wealth, social status and taste at the dinner table, and fine silver was essential to the presentation. During this period, silver was second only to land in its popularity and importance as a physical asset. To the original owners of the pieces featured in The Huguenot Legacy, the works were not luxury items; they were social and economical necessities.

The Styles

Although France and England were economic and military rivals during the 17th and 18th centuries, England looked to its rival for fashion, decorative style and cuisine. Before the revolutionary Huguenot silversmiths changed the face of English silver, the country's metalwork had been generally simple and unadorned; but all that changed as the English broadened their tastes. Many preferred French foods, but new forms were needed for serving French ragouts, stews and sauces. The Huguenots met the needs of the English by creating new serving dishes such as tureens and sauce boats, often in the more ornate French style. In the 1650s, the English were introduced to coffee, chocolate and tea--new beverages that also required new vessels.

The Collection

The Hartman Collection is considered one of the finest private collections of Huguenot silver in the world. It is a collection that shows the techniques of craftsmen who revolutionized English silver. According to Barry Shifman, IMA curator of decorative arts, the flight of the Huguenot silversmiths was a drain on the craftsmanship in France, but it created a great burst of activity in England and led to production of some of the most finely crafted, designed and conceived silversmithing in European history. Their influence reminds us that the creation of art has to do with people. The Huguenot Legacy is about people and what they brought to the craft of silversmithing.

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