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European goldsmithing between the 16th and the 18th century reached an unprecedented artistic and technical level, which was largely due to German masters operating mostly in the chief goldsmithing centre — Augsburg. Thanks to their mass production and high artistic class, goldsmith products from Augsburg soon dominated the markets of Central and Eastern Europe.

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The body of the vessel is decorated with the strip of silver plate with the repoussé scene depicting the welcome of King Saul after his return from the victorious war with the Philistines. The cover bears a semi-circular badge presenting the encounter of Eleazar with Rebecca at the well. Both figural scenes were made at the end of the 17th century, in the workshop of the Augsburg master Friedrich I Schwestermüller, operating from 1678 to 1701. They were assumedly exported as semi-products to Riga, where a goldsmith – known only under the “IL” initials — integrated them into the mugs of his own production. Both vessels found their way into the museum collection in 1945 from the collection of the Sanguszko princes, from the palace in Gumniska near Tarnów. Their earlier history remains unknown — the only known fact is that at the beginning of the 19th century they were kept in the family property in Slavuta.
European goldsmithing between the 16th and the 18th century reached an unprecedented artistic and technical level, which was largely due to German masters operating mostly in the chief goldsmithing centre — Augsburg. Thanks to their mass production and high artistic class, goldsmith products from Augsburg soon dominated the markets of Central and Eastern Europe. In Poland in the 17th and 18th centuries, during the Sarmatism era, there co-existed two tastes among the aristocratic strata of society: the “eastern” taste — favouring oriental products, and the “western” taste. The latter trend was manifested by, e.g., the liking of luxurious goldsmith products imported mostly from Germany. Ready products were imported mainly from Augsburg, while semi-products, later used in the production of goldsmith items in other European workshops, were exported. This was exactly the case with the mug from the collection of the Museum in Tarnów, decorated with biblical scenes (it comes from the set of the two twin mugs, differing with the themes of the depicted scenes).

Elaborated by Łukasz Sęk (District Museum in Tarnów), © all rights reserved

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Jeweller’s code

Objects derived from noble metals were usually marked with signs, so-called features. Their appearance on goldsmith’s products, their number and significance were related to regulations issued by craftsmen's guilds, then also by city and state authorities. These small marks with numbers and symbols in various shapes, which often remind us of cavities, are an extremely valuable source of information about the artwork. It is possible to specify several types of symbols when recognizing their elements and functions.

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Objects derived from noble metals were usually marked with signs, so-called features. Their appearance on goldsmith’s products, their number and significance were related to regulations issued by craftsmen's guilds, then also by city and state authorities. These small marks with numbers and symbols in various shapes, which often remind us of cavities, are an extremely valuable source of information about the artwork. It is possible to specify several types of symbols when recognizing their elements and functions. However, we should remember that their form has changed over the course of history, differing according to location, which makes things difficult because of their quantity.
The first group of features is formed by the individual marks of particular masters as well as workshops. These could include the full name of the master; however, they often appeared in the forms of the majuscule initials. In this case, there was a risk of repeating the monograms, hence—to make a distinction—they were placed in various fields, sometimes with a very fanciful form. In some cases, the mark of the workshop or the later company was also a house mark (in stonemasonry, the signature of the author in a form of a symbol on the stone’s surface)
However, the most common were hallmarks that indicated the percentage of silver contained in the material used for a given goldsmith product. There were many marking schemes, depending on the time, territory, and ruling power, and they were governed by strict regulations. Thanks to this, however, it is possible to determine the approximate time and place of the creation of the work by properly recognizing the features. Hallmarks began to use digital symbols from approximately the nineteenth century (the unit of weight was Lot, hence the lot system), whereas earlier, the town mark itself indicated that the then applicable amount of silver had been used in the alloy.
Town marks support combining products with specific centres. As a sign, they took the form of the coat of arms of the city (or its fragment), sometimes also the entire name of the city, or its first letter.
To check the quality of the products, the works were also marked in state hallmarking centres, hence their name. The hallmark features, made according to the given pattern, contained information about the silver's purity, and sometimes also the date and the letter of the city. At the end of the 18th century, they appeared on the territories of the former Republic of Poland, initially introduced in the Austrian partition.
Furthermore, the contribution features are an interesting example. They marked works which—according to the Austrian contribution (1806)—had been confiscated, and which were then bought up and given back to the owners. That's why they could be found even on very old products. Such features primarily had a letter indicating the hallmarking centre of a given territory.
Among many additional markings and types of features (there are also customs or reserve features, hallmarks or pawnbroker’s marks, and even marks indicating the dates); the above-mentioned ones constitute their basis.
It should, first of all, be realized that goldsmith marks are a very functional tool thanks to which we are able to—sometimes even with high accuracy—date the work, determine the place of its creation, its author, and trace its history. The goldsmith features—just like any cipher—have their own codification. Catalogues of marks are the best source to learn how to recognize them; nevertheless, they are still not fully drafted.

Elaborated byPaulina Kluz (Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Bibliography:
Michał Gradowski, Dawne złotnictwo: technika i terminologia, Warszawa 1980;
Michał Gradowski, Znaki probiercze na zabytkowych srebrach w Polsce, Warszawa 1988;
Michał Gradowski, Znaki na srebrze: znaki miejskie i państwowe używane na terenie Polski w obecnych jej granicach, Warszawa 1994.

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Ornamental subtexts

One of the ideas guiding us in the creation of the portal “Malopolska’s Virtual Museums” is to draw attention to the details of the exhibits, often overlooked intricate decorations, which sometimes surprise when looking closer at the texture and shapes of the presented objects. We strive to use advanced technology to bring out these details and draw people closer to them. With the help of such “magnification”, we would like you to stop you for a moment, or maybe even sometimes make you feel delighted?
What do the ornaments want? What are they to a work of art? Could an ornament be a signature? These, and many other interesting questions, came up during the LXIII National Science Session of the Association of Art Historians entitled Ornament and decoration of a work of art (November 20-22, 2014, Krakow), in which we had the pleasure of participating, presenting exhibits selected for the conference subject matter from the collection of Malopolska’s Virtual Museums.

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One of the ideas guiding us in the creation of the portal “Malopolska’s Virtual Museums” is to draw attention to the details of the exhibits, often overlooked intricate decorations, which sometimes surprise when looking closer at the texture and shapes of the presented objects. We strive to use advanced technology to bring out these details and draw people closer to them. With the help of such “magnification”, we would like you to stop you for a moment, or maybe even sometimes make you feel delighted?
What do the ornaments want? What are they to a work of art? Could an ornament be a signature? These, and many other interesting questions, came up during the LXIII National Science Session of the Association of Art Historians entitled Ornament and decoration of a work of art (November 20-22, 2014, Krakow), in which we had the pleasure of participating, presenting exhibits selected for the conference subject matter from the collection of Malopolska’s Virtual Museums.

All presented objects, seemingly diverse, with a different purpose, being results of the work of manufacturers from different cultures, different types of crafts and artistic periods, are united by one thing: their own ornamentation.
The tendency to decorate, results from the inner need of a human being to aestheticize the surrounding space and the elements organizing it. The motifs and their sets, characteristic for particular periods of history—which created the ornament and thus a certain decorative form—covered and organized the surface of the works. We encounter ornaments in all fields of arts and crafts. It is an inseparable component of a work, even if it does not appear physically, it reflects conscious non-use: an absence. The relationship of an ornament to an object used to vary; it was an accompanying form, its decoration; it could determine the divisions of planes, but, over time, it distinguished itself and assumed the primary role. Treated autonomously, it created forms which constituted artworks in themselves. However, its relation to the surface vacillated from horror vacui to amor vacui, down to complete cleansing. Ornamental forms had their origins in nature, or they were treated as the main source of inspiration, hence the distinction between geometric, vegetal, and animal ornamentation. Its gradual transformation was aimed at achieving an abstract shape, which was, however, still intuitively rooted in reality, or was rather transformed reality:  a set of familiar elements combined in fanciful forms with a surprising relationship to each other.
Distinguishing its character, its accompanying motives and inspirations—including its essence—allows one to get a lot of information about the work itself. This can be done on many levels. A non-accidental juxtaposition of seemingly different objects in a single presentation—in each case adorned with ornamentation—opens up a new field for their interpretation and finding correlations between them.
The desirability of decoration is visible in each of the objects presented—whether in the works of “highbrow”, professional, or folk art—there is an evident need of the conscious or often intuitive use of sometimes very naive ornamental forms, which marked divisions contouring the shape of the object and filling its surface (see: Powder cone, Painted wooden chest with a drawer, Sculpture “Mother of God of Skępe”).
The variety of forms of decoration and ornamentation that has appeared on works from particular cultural circles has been conditioned by many factors. Undoubtedly, the most important was the fashion prevailing at that time, which specified the formal repertoire used, or access to sources of inspiration. However, in most cultures—especially eastern ones—there was a dominant tendency to draw inspiration from nature, which formed the basis for shaping ornamentation in multiple versions (cf. Enamelled vase, Besamin tower box from Vienna, Jewel box, A dyeing template). The ban on figurative art—particularly in Islamic and Jewish culture—led to developing ornamentation as the only acceptable form of art which fully utilized the repertoire of plant and geometrical forms.
The intended purpose of these objects, differing from one another to an extreme extent, allows one to notice that the ornamentation decorating them is not dependent on their function. An ornament is non-political and non-ideological; hence, it was possible to use the same motif on everyday objects and objects of worship (see: Armchair with handrails, Mug with a cover, Chalice). The situation was similar in the case of particular fields of craft, characterized by different techniques, where, regardless of their variety and degree of difficulty, the same ornamental forms appeared. Thus, the quintessence of the ornament is the manipulation of its form. And yet this form itself was specific to the era in which it crystallized. An example of this can be rocaille, containing in its shape, elements and behaviour, epithets corresponding to the Rococo period (see: A woman’s fan). A somewhat different usage and problem, however, was posed by the fact the decoration could take the form of representation, and thus carry specific information, often referring to the purpose of the work or its founder (see: Horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka, Baroque chasuble).
Many kinds of contextual trails—which combine different objects on different levels—can be created. Despite their otherness, we can find many correlational factors among them. We encourage you to look for your own links between the objects presented and the function of the ornaments and decorations, which allow you to see the work from a different perspective: both formal and interpretive.

Opracowanie: Paulina Kluz (Redakcja WMM),
Licencja Creative Commons

 Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa 3.0 Polska.

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Mug with a cover

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