A fruit bowl made by Paul Telge for King Carol I

Modern History
1890 - 1900
asting, chiseling, heat sealing, riveting, polishing, stamping.
G = 865.00 g

    A fruit bowl made by Paul Telge for King Carol I

    Text: Raluca Mălăncioiu; photo: Marius Amarie

    The silver fruit bowl, in the Victorian style, signed by Paul Telge, was transferred to the administration of the National History Museum of Romania in 1974 from the Films Studios in Buftea (where it had been brought from Cotroceni Palace and where it was used as props in movies!).  


    Silver centerpiece, which could be used, when laying the table, as a fruit bowl or candy bowl, depending on the specificity of the menu. The piece is made up as a statuary group, which impresses by the accuracy of details and the exceptional skillfulness in rendering the characters. The main character of the statuary group is Neptune, who is holding the shell-shaped plate. The god is seated on a rock, located in the center of the piece, with his scepter propped behind him. In the sculptural composition, Neptune’s figure is counterbalanced by the figure of a mermaid, depicted in an ecstatic embrace. Both characters are wearing laurel crowns; the mermaid is also wearing flowers in her hair, around the temples. From the lateral side, on the long diagonal of the object, the two main characters are surrounded by two putti who are pulling the reins of some carriages led by fantastic horses – sea creatures, with the webbed feet of marine birds, instead of hoofs, and winged with fins. The putto on the right side is blowing a horn. Around the rock, the sea landscape is consolidated by rendering a specific environment. The silhouette of a crustacean on the front side of the piece, and that of a turtle on the back side, surrounded by shells, algae and marine vegetation are to be remarked. The scene seems to be inspired from the mythological retinue of the couple Neptune and Amphitrite (a nymph usually represented as having the body of a mermaid, carried by a cart pulled by winged horses).

    The statuary group, which is the main visual attraction of the object, is placed on a frustoconical base, with two fluted steps, in the oval plane, with successive withdrawals, placed on four short legs. The legs, which have a vegetal decor, are rising on the base by means of vegetal-floral motifs, out of which the ones placed at the ends of the short diagonal surround an oval cartridge, surmounted by a shell with a pearl. The space assigned for the statuary group on the base is delimited from the finely fluted steps of the base by a border of twisted thread, indented on one side. 

    The plate has the stylized shape of a shell from the oyster family. Collecting shells was very popular towards the end of the 18th century – the beginning of the 19th century; therefore, the shape of a shell, as well as the images of shells were integrated in most decorative arts. In table silverware, the motif of the shell was frequently used, not only for artistic inspiration, but also for a practical reason, because the easily adaptable shape of a shell could hold the content as if in a recipient. In the composition of the fruit bowl that we are presenting, the shell is integrated both from the strictly thematic and ornamental point of view, surmounting the two medallions, and from the functional point of view, as it has the ideal shape for a recipient, for holding the content of the fruit/candy bowl.

    The centerpiece – by its English name – represented the main piece of table silverware, dominating and highlighting the ceremonial specificity of a meal. Its French name, sourtout, brings a further explanation. Particularly, it is not only placed in the main squares of the tableware arrangement at a festive dinner, but it can also be recognized from its sizes, which exceed those of the other specific tableware pieces, being above all. We identify it as the tallest piece in the category of table silverware, close in size to chandeliers, intended for serving, but also for establishing the special ceremonial character of the dinner. A sourtout often had lighting objects inserted in it, candlesticks in pairs, together with the other main serving tableware. This type of piece distinguishes itself as a category of silverware whose decorative and ceremonial purpose is more important than its functional one. Whether it is used as a fruit bowl, candy bowl or a bowl for vegetables or sauces, it is different from the other objects by its impressive decorative touch.

    Typologically speaking, the sourtout was introduced as a distinct piece of tableware at the end of the 17th century, being used for festive tables. It is placed in the middle of the table and marks the center. Initially, it was a pyramidal structure, with a base on which candlesticks, oil and vinegar bottle set, sauce boats, mustard bowls, salt and pepper cellars, etc. were symmetrically arranged. In the central part of this piece, there was a sumptuously decorated lidded bowl, with carvings instead of protuberances or toggles. 

    For the silversmiths, a sourtout was a challenge to prove their craftsmanship and imagination, and the prices matched the effort. The French Revolution, as well as the social changes at the end of the 18th century in Europe diminished the opulence of festive tables and simplified the ceremony of table arrangement, even at the royal courts. The central piece is no longer a pyramidal structure; it is replaced by an object that distinguishes itself through ornamentation and sizes. A simple bowl, a vegetable bowl or a flower basket could be the center of a festive table, without diminishing its ceremonial significance. At the beginning of the 19th century, the most frequently used central pieces are the fruit or candy bowls, made up either of overlapping trays or of various sculptural structures, supporting columns or statuary groups. Up to the end of the century, metalworkers designed such objects under various influences of the older styles, of historical inspiration, with innovative combinations of old stylistic themes and new techniques.  The neo-classicism at the beginning of the 19th century will be followed by neo-renaissance, and the combinations of the themes and techniques acquired from past times, currently studied in-depth and optimized, know no bounds in the 19th century’s art of precious metals. 

    The period of Napoleon III is extremely prolific for the art of precious metals, and, from the artistic point of view, France during the second empire will influence the entire guild of silversmiths, being a beacon in the contemporary fashion. Combinations of Gothic decorative motifs with Baroque and Rococo elements, in forms that followed a classical line – anything was possible, and the craftsmen of those times competed with each other in terms of fantasy and form balance. 

    The metalworker from Berlin, Paul Telge, officially appointed the silversmith of the Royal Court of Romania during the reign of Carol I, was not only a famous craftsman of medals and decorations, but also a punctilious jeweler. Paul Telge, one of the leaders of the guild of metalworkers in Berlin, was deeply involved in the life of the society interested in cultural and historical events in Germany, at the end of the 19th century. His experience as a member of the Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory in Berlin and the Society of History and Cultural Heritage of the Brandenburg Province gives him an advantage in his activity as a silversmith, thanks to his studies and in-depth knowledge of the historical pieces made of precious metal. In the same context, Paul Telge was among the exceptional restorers of the period in which he was working. Amongst the most valuable treasures he restored, there is the Treasure of Pietroasa, exhibited today by NMRH in the form that the silversmith, “jeweler and technician of the Museum in Berlin” gave it in 1884. 

    The silverware made by Paul Telge is remarkable through its minute details, the precision of the techniques and the in-depth knowledge of the historical styles that he harmoniously combines. In a period in which the ordinary silver plated metal was preferred by the bourgeoisie and not only, Paul Telge appreciated massive silver and conferred nobility to his works, by his originality in approaching the themes and by his exceptional technique. The impeccable execution of his works reminds us of the craft that the ancient guilds of German silversmiths used to have. The naturalistic rendering of the vegetal-floral motifs in the ornamental composition of the fruit bowl is balanced and testifies an impressive skill of its creator. Another fashionable decorative element at the end of the century, the rich vegetal-floral motif, rendered as close to nature as possible, reached its climax around the 1850s, by the abundance of canopies, branches and leaves of all kinds, worked in precious metal and imitating nature almost perfectly. The romantic mythological characters, chosen by the artist for decorating the fruit bowl that the museum preserves in its collections, are more frequently encountered in the decorative art of the 18th century. During the period of the Victorian style in England, or of Napoleon III in France, the theme is seldom approached in the ornamentation of silverware. Due to its rarity and exceptional execution the piece is a masterpiece of its epoch.