Beaker, pewter

Beaker, pewter


Pewter, cast and engraved
Magdeburg, Germany; dated October 1763
Made by Ernst Jakob Kopcke (master pewterer from 1758)
Port bequest

This beaker cover is one of a small group of vessels which were engraved by Frederick Baron Trenck whilst imprisoned in Fort Etoile, Magdeburg. An account of these beakers was given by Trenck in his autobiography The Life and Surprising Adventures of Frederick Baron Trenck: 'The daylight I enjoyed induced me to amuse myself by engraving satires, and little drawings with the point of my nail, on the tin cup out of which I drank: and I soon brought this art to so much perfection that my first attempt, though imperfect, was carried to the city. The commandant ordered another such cup to be given me; and in this, I succeeded better than the first; in short, the different majors under whose care I was, requested each a sample of my productions.'

One of the scenes on the museum's beaker, showing the baron sitting in a chair chained to the wall with a chain and collar weighing '68 lbs.' (30.84 kg), refers to an incident when Fort Etoile was under the command of General Borch. 'This cruel man came immediately to my prison, but like a hangman about to take charge of his victim. He was accompanied by locksmiths, carrying a weighty collar, which they put round my neck and a strong chain that was joined to that I had already at my feet; and to these were added two additional ones, so that I was really chained like a savage beast'.

The entire surface of the beaker and cover is engraved with scenes and inscriptions principally in German but also in French. The top of the cover is engraved with a series of scenes, some taken from Aesop's fables with captions written in minute script below each scene in German. The central knob is engraved with a hunting dog on a leash. The inside of the cover is engraved in the centre with a circular panel with scrolling foliage containing four coats of arms with a figure of cupid in the centre and the motto amitie nous unis - 'love unites us' at the top.

The beaker can be dated exactly by the engraving 'Friedrich Baron von der Trenck, member of the King's Carabineers, Rittmeister of O'Donells' Regiment and Consul to the Great Porte in Hungary, in the tenth year of his imprisonment he engraved this beaker with a bent nail finished in Magdeburg in October 1763.'

Frederick Baron Trenck was one of the most distinguished soldiers of fortune of the eighteenth century. Born in 1726 at Konigsberg, he had a distinguished academic career at the university and was presented to Frederick of Prussia as one of the university's top scholars. He also established a reputation as a duellist. After university, he joined the life-guards, an elite regiment of the Prussian cavalry. He did not however neglect his intellectual studies and counted Voltaire among his friends. He was appointed an orderly officer on Frederick the Great's own staff.

His downfall followed an ill-advised love affair with the king's sister Princess Amalie. The king had him arrested in 1743 as a spy and confined him in the fortress of Glatz from which he escaped in 1746. After serving in the Russian service, he returned to Prussia in 1754 and was confined in the fortress at Magdeburg for nine years, five months and 'some days'. In his own words, 'when I lay in the Bastille of Magdeburg, the mighty Frederick the Great said: "Whilst my name is Frederick, Trenck shall never see day"'. He made several attempts to escape and was chained to the wall, incidents which are recorded on the museum's beaker.

At the end of the Seven Years War, Maria Theresa secured Trenck's release. In 1780 he bought an estate at Zwerbach there wrote his celebrated autobiography. He travelled extensively in Europe visiting France and England in 1774-7 and in 1788 went to Paris. He had been exhibited as a wax-work complete with chains at the Palais Royal and had two plays written about him. He was lionised by Paris society: 'wherever I dined or supped all the friends and relatives of the family were invited that they might have a sight of me; and after meals the company immediately crowded round me with the same view'. He was also presented at the Court at Versailles. He then retired to his estates to write, returning to Paris in 1791. He lived safely throughout the Terror but was finally denounced as an Austrian spy and was sent to the guillotine on July 25th 1794.