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Press release

Splendid Rediscovered 18th-Century Silver Service on View in New Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum

Through November 7, 2010

Eighteenth-century European court society was famous for its lavish banquets featuring elaborate settings and protocols designed to indicate the status of both host and guests. Integral to these events were extravagant dining services of silver and gold, many of which subsequently were melted down to finance the frequent wars of the period. Vienna Circa 1780: An Imperial Silver Service Rediscovered, now on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through November 7, 2010, presents a magnificent and rare surviving Imperial silver service, made about 1779-1782 for Duke Albert Casimir of Sachsen-Teschen (1738-1822) and his consort, Habsburg Archduchess Marie Christine of Austria (1742-1798), daughter of Empress Maria Theresa.

The exhibition is made possible by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation.

In 2002, shortly after the Metropolitan Museum acquired two Viennese silver wine coolers from the Imperial silver service called Second Sachsen-Teschen Service (so named to distinguish it from a service made in Vienna in 1748 for Empress Maria Theresa), the core of the surviving parts was discovered in a French private collection. This superb ensemble was last displayed at the end of the 19th century and was believed to be lost, but is now partially reunited in this exhibition. Made by Austrian Imperial court goldsmith Ignaz Joseph Würth, the Second Sachsen-Teschen Service originally comprised more than 350 items, including wine coolers, tureens, cloches, candelabra, candlesticks, and serving implements, as well as 24 dozen silver plates and pieces of porcelain-mounted silver and silver-gilt cutlery. Vienna Circa 1780 showcases more than 100 pieces that survive from the original service and places them in the context of contemporary silver from other European cities.

The service was made in Vienna from about 1779 to 1782 by Würth, a descendent of a prominent Austrian family of court artisans. Würth drew from a variety of influences to create his own unique decorative style, melding popular French Neoclassical ornaments with purely Viennese elements such as vigorous design, play of textures, classical components, and whimsical sculptural details. These qualities are evident in the pieces on view in Vienna Circa 1780 such as silver wine coolers decorated with lion skins and tambourines, tureens featuring dolphins and crayfish, candelabra incorporating snakes, and exquisite plates and cutlery. Two Neoclassical wood and gilded bronze vases, also created by Würth, that were bequeathed by Maria Theresa in 1780 as a memento for Louis XVI (Marie Christine's brother-in-law), are on loan to the exhibition — it is the first time they have left Versailles since they arrived there in 1781. Drawings and prints of diagrams of seating arrangements, napkin-folding techniques, and designs for tables are also on view, as well as some of the original leather cases that held the silver pieces.

The pieces of the Second Sachsen-Teschen Service are displayed in the exhibition on banquet tables evoking historical place settings, which are enhanced with napkins artistically folded in the form of animals, fish, and flowers. These formal napkins were status symbols during this period and an important part of public table decoration. Joan Sallas, napkin-folding specialist and consultant, has created these formal napkins specially for the exhibition.

Representing the splendor of royal dining during the ancien régime, the service was used by Duke Albert Casimir and Archduchess Marie Christine for the majestic state dinners they hosted in Brussels during this "Golden Age of Ceremony," when dining etiquette included ostentatious displays of silver and carefully orchestrated seating plans reflecting the hierarchy of the guests. The couple amassed one of the greatest art collections in Western Europe and their Viennese silver service matched the best Parisian creations of the time. In 1793 French revolutionary troops invaded Brussels and the couple was forced to return to Vienna. They relocated major parts of their collection but lost a third of it on a ship that capsized. After Marie Christine died in 1798, Albert withdrew from public life. Having no heirs, the duke was seen as a relic of a bygone era when he died in 1822, but had taken great care and precautions to protect his art and silver collections. His collection of drawings and prints became the basis of the Albertina Museum in Vienna and the Second Sachsen-Teschen Service was kept intact until after World War II when distant heirs sold it at auction.

Vienna Circa 1780 is organized by Wolfram Koeppe, Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue by Wolfram Koeppe that is available in the Museum's bookshops ($35).

The exhibition and its related programs are featured on the Museum's website at

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In conjunction with Vienna Circa 1780, two special prix-fixe menus and specialty drinks themed to the exhibition are available in the Petrie Court Café and Wine Bar. A two-course menu for $24.00 and a three-course menu for $30.00 feature Viennese specialties such as hot smoked trout and sacher torte.

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April 12, 2010

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