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Ewer and basin

Silver-gilt and enamel

Origin: London

Date: 1592-1593

29.5 cm height of ewer; 41.7 cm diameter of basin; 2227 g weight

Marks/Maker: London, sterling standard, 1592-3, maker's mark probably IN above a mullet

Heraldry: Arms of Proctor impaling Mosley

Provenance: Richard Proctor (d.1610); Sir Ernest Cassel; Lady Louis Mountbatten

Purchased through Sotheby's 2005 (France Fund) with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and the Friends of the Ashmolean, and with the help of donations from Mrs Diane Bacon and Mrs Helen Smyth in memory of their grandfather, A.H. Whiteley; Mr and Mrs Brian Wilson; Mr and Mrs Michael Pix; Lady Heseltine; and various other donors; WA2005.131.1; WA2005.131.2

T. Schroder (2009), no. 212

The ewer and basin was one of the great show-pieces of sixteenth century plate and an essential part of the dining service. Before the adoption of the dinner fork, which in England was not until the end of the seventeenth century, the ewer and basin were needed to rinse diner's fingers. This process became a carefully choreographed ceremony, with basins held by attendants and others pouring scented water over the hands of the guests. The Proctor ewer is one of only six surviving matched sets before 1600 and one of the smaller Tudor examples. The form of the set, particularly the vase-shape ewer was standard for this period and the flat-chased decoration represents a vernacular style current in London workshops in the 1590s and 1600s, apparently associated with prosperous rather than aristocratic patrons. The fine enamelled coat of arms at the centre of the basin, however, is a distinctive signature of wealth. This ewer and basin, together with the bell salt (WA2005.132) were part of an important silver collection formed by Sir Ernest Cassel (1852-1921). Cassel was a German immigrant who reportedly arrived in England at the age of 17 with no more than a bag of clothes and a violin. Within fifteen years he was one of the most prominent financiers in Europe, contributing hugely to Britain's prosperity prior to the First World War. He was made private financial advisor and treasurer to King Edward VII in 1902.

Information derived from T. Schroder, British and Continental Gold and Silver in the Ashmolean (2009)

Fork: The fork first arrived in Italy from Byzantium in the eleventh century and was in regular use there by the fifteenth century. It was a while before the fork was accepted elsewhere in Europe. In 1518, Martin Luther amusingly quipped, ‘God preserve me from the little forks’! It finally came into common use in the seventeenth century, where it developed from the two-pronged type to one of three or four prongs, demonstrating its transition from carving or serving fork to one used for eating.

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