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Working with precious metals

Religious works | Lay works

The art of goldsmithing and silversmithing dates back to ancient times. Almost 25 centuries before our era, the Egyptian, Sasanian, Mycenaean and other civilizations were familiar with these techniques. Goldsmithing and silversmithing refer to the art of giving certain precious metals artistic value. The word used in French is “orfevrerie”, which indicates that this type of work used only gold at the outset. Later, as a result of the scarcity and costliness of this metal, goldsmiths also used silver in their trade.

Goldsmithing and silversmithing, which were above all utilitarian arts, depend on the use made of precious metals, particularly silver, in worship even more than in daily life. As in the case of architecture and sculpture, a sense of beauty led craftsmen to strive for balance in their designs, elegance in the lines or their work and grace in their decoration.

As soon as life became relatively comfortable after the Conquest and clients became numerous, the talent of the artists grew in scope and was demonstrated through works worthy of admiration.

Religious works

For parishes and religious communities, using sacred silver vases was a moral obligation. Certain pieces of religious metalware, such as incense burners and holy water basins, were sometimes made of copper. However, once a parish had sufficient means, it would order silver pieces.

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Holy water basin

Holy water basin
1994.43

Holy water basin

Holy water basin
1994.1445

Sanctuary lamp

Sanctuary lamp
1994.1198

Lay works

Silver tableware was not a necessity but a luxury and a symbol of prosperity. One piece, marked with the owner’s number – generally a goblet or porringer – was sufficient. More often, people would order silver cutlery. This cost less than the larger pieces and did not wear easily. A middle-class person might have enough money to have a porringer made, which would then be passed down the generations. The heirs, in turn, would order a lid for the porringer from another silversmith.

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Coffee pot

Coffee pot
1994.1779.1-2

Footed bowl

Footed bowl
1994.1747.1-2

Serving platter

Serving platter
1994.1998.1-2

Milk jar

Milk jar
1994.3643