The Initiatives in Art and Culture (IAC)'s fifth annual Gold Conference will be taking place tomorrow in New York. Following the main theme "Gold: Transparency, Trends and Techniques", the conference will tackle the most recent developments in the gold industry.
Yet, as seen in a previous post, there seems to be a renewed interest not just in the latest trends regarding the manufacturing of gold jewellery, but in the legacy of this precious material, with exhibitions and events that try and explore its history throughout the centuries.
"Gold", a recently opened exhibition at the Queen's Gallery, The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, showcases for example a series of items and objects made in gold or related to this lustrous metal.
All the items on display (over 60 pieces) - selected from the Royal Collection (many on show in Scotland for the first time) - were collected from different continents and ages and show the versatility of gold.
Though the collective imagination instantly conjures up visions of rich jewels adorning royals or being used to express a person's rank, wealth, power and status, the event actually tries to offer a wider perspective on gold, through the three sections - "Royal Gold", "The Art of Gold" and "Sacred Gold" - in which it is divided.
While rarely seen, the ceremonial items associated with the coronations of British monarchs are actually among the less interesting pieces.
Sir William Chambers and Giovanni Battista Cipriani's 1760 watercolour design for the Gold State Coach - the most expensive coach ever made - used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821, may be a beautifully detailed work of art, in the same way as the text of John Whittaker's illustrated account of the Ceremonial of the Coronation of King George IV in the Abbey of St. Peter's Westminster (1823), printed entirely in gold, catches the visitors' eyes, yet both of them could be considered as elements in the pageantry of coronations rather than extremely original artefacts.
Pieces such as ostentatious gold trays destined to celebrate individuals end up looking like relics of royal power, but visitors will find more interesting looking at the sacred and ornamental purposes of gold in more exotic or unusual artefacts such as a crown made from beaten sheets of gold excavated in Ecuador in 1854 (and presented to Queen Victoria eight years later) or gilded furniture, filigree snuffboxes, gilt leather books and 18th century Japanese lacquer bowls speckled with gold dust.
Jewellery fans will find plenty of interesting pieces including the gold leaf and gold paint decorated scenes on a Chinese-inspired fan which belonged to Queen Adelaide; Simon van de Passe's engraved gold portrait medallion of Elizabeth I; Queen Charlotte's keeper ring and finger ring; a bracelet with a miniature of Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge and a bracelet with a miniature of Queen Victoria.
Costume designers shouldn't instead miss a watercolour by Henri Gissey portraying Louis XIV in the guise of Apollo the sun god, wearing an intricately embroidered rich costume studded with precious stones, while art lovers will maybe prefer the landscapes by the 17th-century artist Pier Francesco Cittadini drawn in pen and ink on paper covered in gold leaf, and Benedetto Gennari's Danaë seduced by Zeus visiting her in the form of a shower of gold coins.
Highlights of the exhibition include the Rillaton Cup from a Bronze Age burial (1700-1500 BC), beaten from a single lump of gold of high purity using tools of bone and stone, and found in 1837 by workmen at Bodmin Moor, Cornwall; altarpieces and illuminated manuscripts decorated with gold leaf and pages from the finest Islamic manuscript in the Royal Collection, The Padshahnama.
Written on paper flecked with gold, the manuscript chronicles the first ten years of the reign of Shah-Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor and builder of the Taj Mahal (reigned 1628 - 58).
The pages feature miniature paintings by some of the finest artists working at the Mughal court in the mid-17th century and an elaborately decorated frontispiece, which features a golden shamsa (sunburst or image of the sun).
One of the most precious pieces on display is probably the life-size tiger's head (1785-93) from the throne of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in India. This unusual piece constructed around a wooden core, features rock crystal fangs, sparkling eyes, and an articulated tongue poking from his gaping jaws, and is considered as a rare masterpiece of craftsmanship for its details, though it's also a tragic war relic. Tipu died defending Mysore in 1799 from a British attack, and the throne - featuring several golden tigers - was broken up and handed over as spoils of war.
The tiger's head is also one of the most revelatory objects in the exhibition: though as a whole the event may look like an assortment of random items and artworks linked by gold and quite often displaying the power of monarchy (and the greed of men), the workmanship and the stories behind some of these pieces is what really counts.
"Gold", The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, until 26th July 2015.
Image credits for this post
All images Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015.
1. Tiger's head from the throne of Tipu Sultan, 1785-93
2. Engraved portrait of Elizabeth I, Simon van de Passe,c.1616
3. Design for the Gold State Coach, Sir William Chambers and Giovanni Battista Cipriani, 1760
4. Queen Adelaide's fan, c.1830
5. Tray, 1821/2, Philip Rundell
6. Gold, diamond and ruby bracelet with miniature of Queen Victoria, 1839
7. Gold bracelet with portrait miniature of Princess Mary of Cambridge, 1836 (closed)
8. Gold bracelet with portrait miniature of Princess Mary of Cambridge, 1836
9. Gold, amethyst, carnelian, ruby, garnet, emerald commesso (cameo combined with gold to form a pendant), c.1555
10. Lacquer and gilt bronze Japanese bowl, 18th century
11. Louis XIV in the guise of Apollo, c.1654, by Henri Gissey
12. Rillaton gold cup, c.1700 - 1500 BC
13. Opening shamsa (sunburst) from the Padshahnama, c.1656-7
14. Cup, 1874, Faberge; Workmaster: Erik August Kollin
15. Gold bracelet with cameo of Princess Charlotte of Wales, c.1820
16. The Flight into Egypt, Pier Francesco Cittadini, c.1650-80
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