JEWISH PLATE

The culture of the West was far behind that of the East in ancient times, and when the peoples of these islands were in a state of semi-barbarism, the nations of the East had advanced civilisations. Their arts had scarcely penetrated into Europe. Long before the Greeks and the Romans possessed plate, or the Etruscans learned the arts of the metal workers, Egyptians and Jews knew how to make vessels of silver and gold, and possessed large stores of those works of utility and art. In Holy Writ l there are many authentic and detailed accounts of plate in use among the Jews and other Eastern nations at an early date. Perhaps the most frequent mention in Biblical records is that of the cup which would then be a common food vessel and its form well known, and for which purpose silver and even gold appear to have been much used. In patriarchal days the founders of the Jewish race understood the art of fashioning cups, and they soon acquired skill in making jewelled ornament. From sacred writings confirmed by discoveries and the records of other nations, the vessels referred to in Bible, history were those belonging to the leaders of the people and the heads of tribes, and the vessels used by the priests in the ritual of the worship of Jehovah. We must not assume by constant mention of these things that they were the property of the common people, for in the East as among the barbarian races of the West, there was a great distinction, and perhaps a wide gap, between the chieftains and their peoples, and the heads of the tribes and the poorer members, although tribal relationship and family connection was stronger there than in some other localities where slavery and serfdom was rife. Abraham had in his retinue bond slaves too. The gold and silver ornaments of the Egyptian peoples "were taken and melted down to form a " golden calf," that was a piece of work worthy of the craft, although its purpose was evil, and it is evident that there were among the Israelites men who had learned the art of -Ni-orking in big things from the Egyptians, who at that time possessed many fine works of art in the precious metals. Long before the Israelites left the land of their bondage food vessels and drinking cups of silver were in regular use among Egyptian nobles and in the royal household. Pharoah employed a cup bearer just as other Eastern monarchs in Assyria and Persia had done. The Biblical story of the cup of silver placed in Benjamin's sack hands on to posterity a true record of the silver-smith's art at that early time. The trade once learned by the captive Jews was never forgotten, and all through their wanderings in the Desert of Sinai it is very likely it would not only be remembered by those who had worked in metals but fake other occupations the sons of the nation would be taught the handicraft, so that when the time came for the founding of a new people and a great nationality of freemen, there would be no lack of skilled labourers to furnish the Temple of Jehovah and the Royal House of David with suitable appointments for sacred and secular purposes. The famous vessels of the Jewish Temple have been pictured many times, their forms have been handed on by paintings and by sculptures in stone by Eastern artists and in written records of eye witnesses ; substantiated later on the columns and medals of Ancient Rome to which place the Golden Candlestick, with its seven branches so full of mystic meaning was carried after the sack of the Holy City. There can be no mistake about these ancient artistic triumphs of the metal worker's art for the great candlestick was represented on the arch of Titus, where were also figures of other sacred things taken from Jerusalem. The stores of gold plate in the days of Solomon were many, and not only were there plenty of vessels of silver for the Temple use but the tents of the King and his chieftains were full of such things. === MASSIVE METAL WORK. There have in the past been many instances of massive silver work much of which has now perished, and of those few pieces that have been discovered much of their original beauty has disappeared. Gold is practically imperishable, and golden vessels from Greece and other places and from the Etruscan tombs, have been found almost in their original condition. Not so, however, with silver, for the metal suffers from the influences of earth and chemical deposits, it also suffers from exposure to weather. Although not silver plate in the sense of collectable objects the massive work of the ancients must not be overlooked. In Assyria there were many great monuments in the precious metals. Among the statues of Ancient Greece, too, have been found monuments of considerable size and importance, one of the best known being the statue of Athene, by Phidias, found in the Pantheon. There has been nothing like these things made in recent days, and all the triumphal works of modern silversmiths pale before the column of Theodosius which was of silver, weighing 7,400 lbs.-that was destroyed by Justinian who " used up the metal." Several of the Roman Emperors, at the time when Oriental splendour had such an attraction possessed many vessels of silver and gold, for the rulers of Byzantium loved the display of wealth and the pomp which it carried with it. Arcadius was possessed of a golden chariot drawn by mules caparisoned with harness of beaten gold. Theophilus had a throne of gold which had been taken from Bagdad. In more recent times the semi-barbarous peoples of the East had wonderful thrones and large works of silver and gold, the skill of the craftsmen showing traces of very ancient traditions. The love of the beautiful had much to do with the pomp and display of gold and silver among Eastern nations, but there was an underlying reason in that it was then usually part of the policy of the State and of its regal head to overawe the common people by the use and display of plate and other treasures, the possession of which was the sovereign prerogative. The possession of big things and of the display of grandeur has been the prerogative of sovereigns and of those in authority ever since. Even in these days when Kings and Field Marshals go into the field of battle clad in the plainest garb of the colour of the clothes of the men they command, there is still an underlying desire for grandeur on suitable occasions, and the displays of metallic wealth is not altogether a thing of the past. There is still work for the silversmith, and many objects of beauty are being, and will still be made by the craft, although the lavish expenditure of the precious metals is not likely ever to be made again to the extent the ancients employed it in fashioning their great monuments of silver and gold, of which there are authentic records

Silver Pierced Caster

Fig 11 SILVER PIERCED CASTER. 1692-3

Silver Porringer and Cover

Fig 12.SILVER PORRINGER AND COVER 1678

and well preserved examples. The value of silver has increased but not in the same proportion as the wages of ~-, the craftsman. In days of old many of the wonderful works we read about were the work of a lifetime, and years of patient labour were expended upon the decoration of a simple article. Such prodigality of labour is not possible to-day, although the results produced by the ` aid of modern processes and the use of mechanical appliances and scientific methods, enable the artist to produce remarkable effects in a comparatively short time, and to supply his clients with many noble works of art, not unworthy of the silversmiths of old.