Bird of prey cup, Germany, around 1600, Cast, raised and chased partially gilded silver (parcel-gilt), carved coconut shell and carved semiprecious stones. Museum no. 61:1, 2-2008
Drinking vessels in the form of owls and birds of prey were popular in German-speaking lands during the 16th and 17th centuries. On this example, the coconut shell has been carved with feathers and the silver mounts have a similar naturalistic effect.
John Wren, stork tongs, about 1780. Museum no. 1707-1944
This delicate pair of tongs would probably have been used either as nappy tongs or to thread delicate ribbon through baby clothes. The pincers are constructed as a witty pun on the stork’s snapping beak.
John Schuppe, cow cream jug, 1759-60. Museum no. M.1687-1944
The silver cow, with its tail as a handle, makes an amusing container for cream. Almost all the cow creamers in existence have a comic, almost cartoon-like appearance and were made by John Schuppe, a Dutchman who settled in London. Another animal form, a wildly out of proportion fly, appears as a handle on this cow’s back. The creamers appeared in a variety of finishes. This one has the cow’s hide etched onto the surface of the silver.
John Bridge of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, salt holder, London, 1825-6. Museum no. 24-1964
This salt holder shows the impact of naturalism on 19th-century design, which reached its height in the 1850s. The mould in which the silver was cast was taken from a real sea-urchin. The love of nature had romantic and religious resonances, the writer John Ruskin commenting that 'all noble ornamentation is the expression of man's delight in God's work'.
Johann Andreas Thelot, plaque from a cabinet, 1684. Museum no. 248-1956
The hind quarters of the horse on the left stick out of the plaque, catching the light and directing your eyes straight into the scene in a clever trick of perspective. Other horses, pulling a chariot containing a victorious Roman emperor and general, have been compressed to appear further away.
It takes great skill to produce high relief decoration on an essentially flat object like a plaque. The design for this plaque would have been pricked out on the surface of a flat sheet, then the sheet turned over and the basic pattern hammered out from the back. The detail was worked in from the front using a variety of hammers and punches, with the sheet resting on pitch to hold it steady.
Kevin Coates, the Carrington Cup, 1987. Museum no. 64-1988
The Director of the V&A, Sir Roy Strong, commissioned this cup for Lord Carrington, the Chairman of the Museum’s Trustees. The mythical beast that supports it is a gryphon, with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. This creature was carefully chosen. It was a guardian of treasure, and Lord Carrington was a guardian of the wealth of treasure that is the V&A’s collection.