The Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection
The Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection of gold, silver, mosaics, gold boxes and enamel portrait miniatures was given to the nation by Sir Arthur Gilbert (1913–2001) in 1996. The collection was on display at Somerset House, London, from 2001 until 2008 when it was transferred to the V&A Museum, South Kensington, London. The move to South Kensington enables the collection to be appreciated by a wider audience and the spectacular masterpieces it contains will greatly enhance the V&A's existing displays.
The range of material and types of objects in the collection demonstrates the personal interests and passions of Rosalinde and Arthur. These were comprehensive yet selective, as can be seen in the array of artefacts so carefully and enthusiastically acquired over many years. A passion for opulence and the finest craftsmanship is evident throughout, unifying the whole collection. The collection also shows how one passion inspired and influenced the next. The collection of gold boxes, for example, included a number which were set with portraits in enamel. It was this that first encouraged the Gilberts' interest in, and particular affection for, enamel portrait miniatures.
Some pieces from this vast collection, including objects made by Paul de Lamerie, will be incorporated into displays elsewhere in the V&A, including the Whiteley Silver Galleries. Some of the silver will be returned on loan to the historic houses for which it was originally made, to Uppark, West Sussex; Belton House, Lincolnshire; Erddig, Wrexham; Shugborough, Staffordshire, and Dunham Massey, Cheshire. Hardstone or pietre dure objects from the collection will also be on show to the public at the Cliffe Castle Museum in West Yorkshire. Further examples from the collection can also be seen at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.
Selections from the Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection are on display to the public in Rooms 70-73 at the V&A. In a suite of galleries overlooking the garden, the display will celebrate the masterpieces of the collection, with a particular focus on the gold boxes.
Sir Arthur Gilbert made his earliest acquisitions of silver in the 1960s. At first he was drawn to pieces for their decorative appeal, but by 1970 the emphasis of his collection had shifted towards craftsmanship, and examples of the very finest goldsmiths' work. As Sir Arthur expressed it, many of his silver pieces have a 'monumentality' about them which reflects the grandeur of the lifestyle for which they were designed.
The silver in the Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection is diverse, both in terms of the periods and geography covered, and also the styles represented. Silver and gold from the late 15th to the 19th centuries from Britain, Continental Europe and India make up the collection, which includes objects ranging from teaspoons to monastery gates. English 18th-century silver accounts for about a third of the collection, which reflects Sir Arthur's particular interest in the rococo.
This impressive collection not only provides a broad picture of the development of silver styles and techniques in Europe through the centuries, but represents the work of influential silversmiths such as Paul de Lamerie (1688-1751) and Paul Storr (1771-1844).
There are over 200 gold boxes in the Gilbert Collection, most of which were made as containers for snuff, a form of powdered and scented tobacco which was fashionable throughout 18th century Europe. Snuff was not intended to be smoked - a pinch of snuff was usually sprinkled on the back of the hand and then inhaled.
As snuff-taking developed into an elaborate social ritual it gave rise to an entirely new art form of superbly made and very expensive boxes that reflected the luxurious tastes of the aristocracy. Gold snuff boxes were also used as important diplomatic gifts and were often presented as rewards by grateful monarchs. Goldsmiths, stone polishers, enamel painters and miniaturists collaborated to create snuffboxes, each one a masterpiece of sumptuous decoration and design.
Included in the Gilbert Collection are boxes made in Paris, Berlin, London, Dresden and Vienna, often for kings and emperors including Louis XV and Napoleon. The highlights of this collection are the brilliantly jewelled boxes made for Frederick the Great of Prussia, which are richly worked designs of gold, diamonds and hardstones.
Portrait miniatures in enamel form the smallest part of the Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection, but though they are relatively few in number, they represent most leading artists and centres of production. The miniatures offer a comprehensive view of enamel portrait miniatures from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
Sir Arthur first encountered this type of object as part of the decoration of a number of snuff boxes that he acquired. The colourfastness of the miniatures greatly appealed to him, as did the great technical demands of the process of enamelling. It is this interest in virtuosity and painstaking craftsmanship that can be seen throughout the collection.
Sir Arthur's particular affection for these portrait miniatures was also due to the fact that the sitters were often the people responsible for the commissioning and use of other objects in the collection.
In an auction house in Los Angeles, Sir Arthur Gilbert was drawn to what he believed to be a pair of paintings only to realise that he was in fact looking at a pair of micromosaics made from miniscule glass pieces. These micromosaics formed the beginning of a collection that would become one of the world's most comprehensive, second only to those of the Vatican Museum, Rome, and the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Sir Arthur's collection also contains hardstone mosaics, also known as pietre dure, where the finished effect is achieved by the careful combination of semi-precious stones to create a harmonious whole.
The ancient technique of mosaic was revived in Europe during the 16th century after Roman antiquities, including mosaics, began to be unearthed in archaeological excavations. Techniques developed and improved, with mosaic images becoming increasingly subtle as the individual glass pieces, known as tesserae, became smaller, and the range of available colour pigments grew larger. In 1588 Ferdinand de' Medici established the Grand Ducal workshop in Florence, which supported and patronised the specialised art of hardstone mosaics. Many craftsmen were trained in Florence before setting up studios around Italy. Pietre dure mosaics were produced in Florence, Milan and Rome, and were emulated in Prague and St. Petersburg. Soon craftsmen were attempting to create the perfect 'stone paintings' through the clever exploitation of the natural variations in pigment of the stones. As techniques quickly improved, the mosaics became more figurative than geometric. In the 18th century the glass micromosaic technique was developed in the Vatican Mosaic Workshop in Rome.
Micromosaics and pietre dure can be found on a great variety of objects such as tabletops, cabinets, vases, pictures and jewellery.
Information in the V&A Archive:
Gilbert collection records (GC): object files, exhibition files, research and administration files, photographs and transparencies
MA/1/G572: Nominal file – Arthur Gilbert
MA/29/207: Mosaics from the Gilbert Collection, 17 Jul - 14 Sep 1975 (preview/opening papers, object photographs)
MA/33/65: Exhibition of Arthur Gilbert's silver collection, proposed (correspondence with lender, object list)
Selected printed sources
Coffin, Sarah, and Bodo Hofstetter. Portrait miniatures in enamel. London: Philip Wilson Publishers in association with the Gilbert Collection, 2000. NAL press mark: 603.AA.2152
Gabriel, Jeanette Hanisee, and Anna Maria Massinelli. Micromosaics. London: Philip Wilson Pub. in association with The Gilbert Collection, 2000. NAL press mark: 604.AA.0616
Massinelli, Anna Maria, and Jeanette Hanisee Gabriel. Hardstones: The Gilbert Collection. London: Philip Wilson Pub. in association with The Gilbert Collection, 2000. NAL press mark: 604.AA.0618Stevens, Timothy. ‘Gilbert, Sir Arthur (1913–2001).’ In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. NAL pressmark: 920.041 DIC
Schroeder, Timothy. The Gilbert Collection of Gold and Silver. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, c1988. NAL press mark: 513.A.110
Schroeder, Timothy, ed. The Gilbert Collection. London: V&A Publishing, 2009. NAL press mark: 602.AK.0454
To locate material in the National Art Library, please search the Library Catalogue.