Exhibition overview gallery 48, photo: Lotte Stekelenburg
From the twelfth century the French city of Limoges was the centre of enamel production. Initially objects were decorated with simple motifs in inlaid enamel (email champlevé). In the fifteenth century, craftsmen in the city developed the technique of painting with glass paste on copper (email peint). The museum owns twenty small, enamelled portable alters (paxes) from the period 1500-1700. Despite the fragility of enamel, the colours of the portable altars are just as fresh as when they were made.
The cauldron was the mediaeval precursor of the modern cooking pot. The earliest examples have a simple, archaic form with a rounded base. Over time the shape of the cauldron was adapted to the development of the hearth. Three feet were added so that the pot was stable on an uneven floor surface. Additions such as ears or handles allowed the cauldron to be hung above the fire.
From the twelfth century, trade and the crusades were responsible for an important exchange of European and Arabic knowledge and culture. Alongside spices, textiles and handcrafted objects, sciences such as astronomy, mathematics and medicine were imported to Europe from the Middle East. The use of tin and gold lustre glazes and geometric and floral decorations in fifteenth-century Spanish and Italian majolica is indebted to Eastern examples. Eastern inspiration is evident in, among other things, the reinterpretations of Eastern rosewater sprinklers by Tiffany & Co and Andries Dirk Copier.
Porcelain has its origins in China, where it was first produced in the seventh century. In the late Middle Ages porcelain was introduced to Europe via the Silk Road and was prized for its pure white colour, exotic design and great hardness. Initially European potters could not crack the secret of porcelain but attempted to imitate it in majolica and faience. It was not until 1708 that a geologist and an alchemist in Meissen managed to work out the recipe for porcelain and the first European porcelain factory was established. This was soon followed by factories in the Netherlands at Weesp, Loosdrecht and Ouder-Amstel.
Until well into the sixteenth century the fork was not part of European cutlery. During meals people used a knife with a pointed blade to prick food from a shared dish and transfer it to a trencher (eating board). The dining fork has its origins in the Middle East; there are examples from this region dating back to the sixth century. As the fork became a popular item of cutlery in the seventeenth century, its form began to change. Initially forks had two prongs, but later variations had three or four.
Wineglasses with a foot have existed since classical antiquity. In Venice in the fourteenth century the stem glass was developed further to create luxury glasses mainly used for drinking wine. The design was partially inspired by ecclesiastical chalices and ceremonial lidded goblets. Stem glasses were costly status symbols, mainly used by the higher social classes. The decoration contributed to the object’s luxury aura. The glassblower could embellish the glass while making it or craftsmen could apply painted or engraved decoration afterwards. In addition to the beautiful examples of chalices from earlier centuries, the twentieth-century guild glass by A.D. Copier can be seen as an archetype of the contemporary wineglass.