'Apollo and Daphne' candlesticks, London, around 1743. Museum no. M.329&A-1977
The sensual, writhing figures of Apollo and Daphne represent the victory of chastity over desire. The candlesticks were intended for the dining table, so providing guests with a visual feast and a moral lesson at the same time.
Reliquary of St Sebastian, Augsburg, around 1497. Museum no. M.27-2001
The agonised body of St Sebastian, slumped by a tree after being shot with arrows as a result of his faith, vividly conveys his torment. His smoothly finished body contrasts with the roughly etched tree trunk. Images of St Sebastian were believed to offer protection from plague. His figure would have served as a constant reminder to Christians of the strength of his faith.
Wager Cup, England, ca.1680 (made). Museum no. LOAN:GILBERT.543-2008
Some wager cups tested the co-ordination of the drinker. This one required him to drink from the upturned skirt of the milkmaid without spilling liquid from her swinging pail below. It was later fitted with a clockwork mechanism so that the figure could roll upright along the table.
Sea beaker, marked by H.G. Murphy, London, 1933-4. Museum no. M.19-1991
This beaker has been delicately engraved with a sensuous and romantic mermaid. This portrayal of the human figure is decorative only, constrained within the strong outline of the beaker, unlike the wager cup where form and ornament are combined.
Spoon with figure of wild man finial, London, around 1450. Museum no. M.65-1921
This gnarled little figure on the end of the spoon’s handle is a wild man of the woods, or 'wodewose'. He carries a club and was sometimes seen as a symbol of fertility.
Waiter, London, 1698-9, mark of Benjamin Pyne, M.77-1947
On this dish winged children (putti) have been cleverly worked into the floral frieze and also act as supporters for the coat of arms. These chubby, angelic figures were seen as messengers of the gods, sent to guide people through life. They have a highly polished, shiny finish to emphasise the smoothness of their skin, in contrast to the detailed engraving of the surrounding foliage.