A 16th-century royal wedding present grabbed the world’s attention before, and again after, industrialisation.
Dr Christian Hörack is curator of precious metals and modern ceramics at the Swiss National Museum.
On 30 May 1536 Henry VIII, King of England, married his third wife, Jane Seymour. Perhaps as a wedding gift, he gave her a magnificent lidded cup made of gold, set with precious stones and pearls. Jane Seymour wasn’t able to enjoy her gift for very long, however; she died on 24 October 1537, a few days after the birth of her son, the future King Edward VI. A hundred years later, King Charles I finally had the cup – by then out of style but still extremely valuable in terms of materials – melted down. Fortunately, two depictions of the cup, which was designed by Hans Holbein the Younger (about 1497-1543), have survived.
Melted down and rediscovered
The first major World’s Fair, ‘The Great Exhibition’ in London in 1851, was a stunning showcase of increasingly machine-made goods of all kinds. At the same time, there was a growing chorus of voices warning that, out of sheer enthusiasm for industrial progress, the actual design features of all the new things would be neglected. A certain uneasiness about the new and a nostalgia for established aesthetic values led to an intensification of the study of bygone eras, especially the Gothic period and the Renaissance.
As a result, Holbein’s paintings and graphic works, including his designs for goldsmithing products, were rediscovered by a wider audience. Two centuries after its definitive destruction, the Jane Seymour cup designed by Holbein and known only from the two surviving sketches became a very important and much copied exemplar that was now once again right in line with contemporary tastes. At the second London World’s Fair in 1862, London-based Crown goldsmiths Garrard & Co. exhibited a cup made according to Holbein’s sketches. Holbein’s designs gained additional exposure through contemporary publications and were praised in glowing terms.
Holbein was also a role model in Lucerne
Unsurprisingly, in Lucerne a highly motivated and talented young goldsmith by the name of Karl Silvan Bossard was also working with Holbein’s designs. Bossard’s years of travelling had taken him via Fribourg, Geneva, Paris and London as far as New York and Cincinnati (Ohio). Back in Lucerne, the studio he had taken over from his father in 1868 flourished. That was no mean feat in an age when, faced with competition from the new industrial manufacturers, the traditional crafts seemed obsolete. Only goods of the highest quality in design and execution could tempt wealthy customers to buy the products of a traditional goldsmith’s workshop. This success also benefited from the simultaneous growth of tourism in Lucerne, with a correspondingly affluent national and international clientele appearing on the scene.Bossard produced a number of interpretations of the Jane Seymour cup, in both very precise copies and very free renditions. So the lidded cup he made in 1878 is more than just a copy of the original. The Lucerne goldsmith modified Holbein’s original design and added inscriptions and decoration that referenced the client, the Zurich Zunft zur Waag guild.
The superior craftsmanship of the copies based on historical examples and his own original creations in a historical style meant Bossard’s Lucerne goldsmithing studio flourished. When he was awarded a gold medal at the Paris World Exhibition in 1889, Karl Silvan Bossard finally became world-famous.