The Capel Basket

Pierre Harache
London, 1686

Gallery 52, Silver and Watches


Focus on the Object

The Object
The Capel Basket is an exceptionally rare piece of French silver. Its unique shape and decoration mark a turning point in English silver design and anticipate the golden age of the English silver industry.
It is one of the most important acquisitions by any museum in the area of English silver, in recent times. It shows a combination of the techniques for which the Huguenot goldsmiths were famous in particular, casting, embossing and soldering. The serpent handles are exceptionally well cast and the border decoration is composed of a painstaking combination of reeding (opposite to fluting) and separately formed and burnished ribbonwork.

What do we see?
The basket is an elongated octagonal form with entwined double serpent handles. Its sides are delicately embossed with a pattern suggestive of woven basketwork and on the flat base there are panels of ornament incorporating baskets of flowers amidst scrolling foliage. At the centre are the family arms of Sir Henry Capel (1638-96).

Its function
It has been suggested that The Capel Basket is a layette basket, a form commonly made in Holland for the linen and clothing of a newborn baby. Sir Henry Capel did not have children so it is probable that it was made purely for display.