The Wimbledon Ladies Singles Tennis Championships trophy is one of the most instantly recognisable icons of women's sport. It has been held aloft numerous times by the likes of Billie Jean King and Serena Williams. As a sports trophy it is unique, but as a work of art it is a replica.
The origins of the Wimbledon trophy lie in a much older presentation dish in our collection, the Temperance Basin. By 1875 we had 15 versions of the Temperance Basin in a variety of materials in our collection, and together they represent a fascinating story of reproduction and material innovation through the ages.
The Temperance Basin
The Temperance Basin is one of the most copied and adapted artworks from the Renaissance period. The original cast pewter dish was designed in around 1585 by the French model carver and medallist, François Briot and was acquired by the V&A in 1855 for the sum of £19. The presentation buffet dish is elaborately decorated with figures from classical mythology. The figure of Temperance holding a wine cup decorates the central area, and around this a broad band of ornament contains four plaques that depict figures representing air, water, earth, and fire. In addition, oval panels on the rim depict the Seven Liberal Arts – Grammar, Reason, Rhetoric, Music, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astrology – and their patron Minerva.
Briot's dish was made to be copied. They were cast in a mould that was made to be used over a long time. During his lifetime, Briot's prototype was also imitated. Bernard Palissy, an influential ceramicist of the period, (about 1510 – 90) mould pressed a replica in earthenware in the 1580s. This, in turn, was replicated again in earthenware during the mid-19th century by Georg Pull (1810 – 89).
In the early 17th century, the Nuremberg artist Caspar Enderlein engraved new moulds based on Briot's dish, and created a slightly larger version of the original Temperance Basin. Enderlein did not take moulds directly from Briot's dishes but instead engraved a new mould closely based on the original, replacing Briot's initials with his own. On Enderlein's versions the panels of decoration were orientated differently. The pewterer, Hans Sigmund Geisser, cast this dish in around 1650, nearly 40 years after Enderlein engraved the mould.
Thereafter numerous reproductions of the original continued to be made, including a version by Benjamin Schlick that was made into a table by the young designer, George Clark Stanton (1832 – 1894). This was presented by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria for her birthday in 1850. During the 19th century variations were also made in cast iron, and, as late as 1900, the Parisian pewterer Jules Brateau (1844 – 1923), was selling editions adapted for the Art Nouveau market.
The version held aloft as the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Championship trophy was made in silver by the firm of Elkington and Company of Birmingham in 1864. This version is known as the Venus Rosewater Basin, and was first presented at Wimbledon in 1886. Every champion since has had her name engraved on it. The reproduction of the basin was made by the electrical deposition of silver into a mould, and used the plaster cast of an Enderlein basin in the Louvre as a model. When it was first created, the Wimbledon reproduction represented the height of 19th century modernity and was at the forefront of technological innovation. The V&A has an electrotype version which was also made by Elkington, and was moulded from the same plaster cast, 12 years before the creation of the Wimbledon trophy.
The Venus Rosewater Basin is a work of great artistry treated with awe by tennis stars and sports fans the world over for the achievement, continuity and drama it recognises. Each year the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Champion receives a smaller version of the basin to keep while the All England Club retains the presentation trophy created in 1864. Such is the nature of replication, reproduction and appropriation in art, that the champion takes home a reduced reproduction of a trophy that is itself an electrotype copy formed in a mould taken from a plaster-cast of a 17th-century pewter basin, which was itself a modified version of a late 16th-century pewter basin.
In 2018 as part of the redevelopment of the Cast Courts and in celebration of the ReACH declaration, the museum scanned 25 objects from across the collections in collaboration with the RapidForm department at the Royal College of Art.
Basin 3D scan
The project was designed to explore the capacity of replication in the digital age, and the Temperance Basin was chosen for scanning owing to its finely moulded, reflective surface. We chose to scan a 19th century electrotype copied from the electrotype of the Enderlein version that also made the Wimbledon trophy. The scanning was undertaken using a hand held structured light scanner and very successfully captured the form of the basin. From this scan, a resin version was printed and is displayed alongside the other versions in the Cast Courts.
Find out more about the Cast Collection.