The construction of this loving cup—meant to be passed around among a group of friends, family, or members of a corporate entity–is unusual but achieved by simple means. A circular sleeve was slipped over a plain cylindrical tankard shape, with the addition of handles. The decoration in relief consists of flower sprays, beautifully realized in their suggestion of volume and delicately textured to suggest petals of different species. The intervening spaces were cut away in a technique known as ajouré—which means "letting in the light" or "open to the daylight." The decoration is on a silver blank, whereas the body of the piece is in silver gilt, and shadows are created where the ground of the outer layer is cut away. The same technique is used on the cover, highly wrought on the outer layer and plain on the inner, with elaborate chasing on the flowers, peacocks, and the bee that has alighted on a flower.
The presentation of such a distinctive cup would certainly have elicited much admiring comment on its beauty, rarity, and excellence of technique. The decoration suggests Holland as a place of origin, based on the similarity of the mixed flower pattern to numerous well-known Dutch engravings of the mid-seventeenth century. However, a number of such cups are known, all made by London master goldsmiths. It is thus likely that the repoussé work was ordered from a particular craftsman, perhaps a German or Dutch foreigner who did not desire or for some reason was disqualified from membership in the goldsmiths' guild, and therefore could not mark and issue his own work.
This type of cup was in fashion from at least 1669, the date mark on the earliest known example, to 1685, the latest date mark found on a very similar cup in the British Museum. The period during which these elaborate works were made for a London clientele corresponds to Charles II's reign, a time that saw an explosion of extravagance and sumptuousness in many aspects of social and private life in reaction to the Puritan years under Cromwell.
Artist: James Cox (British, ca. 1723–1800)Date: 1766Medium: Case: gold with diamonds and paste jewels set in silver, pearls; Dial: while enamel; Movement: partly gilded brass and steel, wheel balance and cock of silver set with paste jewelsAccession: 1982.60.137On view in:Gallery 540