A gift of the European Commission of the Danube to King Carol I

Modern history
800‰ silver, common metal, enamel
casting, polishing, gilding, emailing
H = 23, 5 cm, max. D = 16, 8 cm
550 g.

    A gift of the European Commission of the Danube to King Carol I

    Texts: Raluca Mălăncioiu; photos: Marius Amarie

    Stand with stem of a cup. 65545. Dating: 1893-1894. Materials: 800‰ silver, common metal, email. Techniques: casting, polishing, gilding, emailing. Dimensions: H = 23, 5 cm, max. D = 16, 8 cm; W = 550 g. German workshop, Berlin. Piece marked D. Vollgold & Sohn, BERLIN.

    In the Silverware Collection of the National History Museum of Romania can be found a fragmentarily preserved silver cup with a special commemorative significance. The event to which it is connected is proof of the obvious concern shown by king Carol I towards the modernization and laying out of infrastructure on the Danube and his actual involvement in these projects. 

    The cup is a reminder of an important moment in the history of the nineteenth century, the official opening of a new navigational channel on the Sulina branch, in 1894. The inaugural ceremony was graced with the notable presence of King Carol I, accompanied by the prime minister, the members of the Lascar Catargiu cabinet, as well as other high officers of the Romanian Army. The festivities took place on 17th -18th May 1894, with the participation of the representatives of the European Commission of the Danube. The official Ottoman delegate, Azarian Effendi, presided the Commission’s reunion on the occasion of the inauguration of the channel. 

    Azarian Effendis’s speech at the official opening of the new channel, as well as the courteous response of His Majesty, are reported with great accuracy by Dimitrie A. Sturdza. His description of the moment when a cup of champagne was raised in honor of the event validates the hypothesis that this commemorative piece, kept fragmentarily in the museum’s collection, was  the one given to the king during the official festivities in May 1894.

    The silver cup raised during the toast in honor of King Carol I was given to him on behalf of the European Commission of the Danube and was kept with great consideration by the Romanian monarch, as a sign of the reciprocal feeling of having achieved a great desideratum. The gift received by the king meant the materialization of a symbolical gesture through which member states of this European organization expressed their gratitude for Romania’s governmental support  during the construction works, a support facilitated in the greatest measure by the King, a great advocate of development projects on the Danube.

    Description, origin, circulation of the piece

    The fragment kept in the museum collection is a stem placed on a stand. Most likely, the top part of the piece was lost during transportation and could only be reconstructed theoretically, based on a multitude of analogies. However, not a single certain possibility that would lead to the re-creation of the initial aspect of the cup was discovered. 

    The stand of the cup is made out of partially gilt silver, is truncated-cone-shaped and has a large circular base, which represents the part of the piece with the maximum diameter. Proportionally, the stem has a low height and ends with a small-sized cup. The stand is decorated with circular registers, separated by a grooved band. The lower register is decorated with floral motifs and stylized shells, and the top one with vegetal motifs surrounding four medallions, each decorated differently. Within the first medallion is applied the enameled Romanian coat of arms, secured on the back of the piece with three rivets with washers; inside the second medallion is engraved the inscription - COMMISION EUROPEENNE DU DANUBE, in a medallion, on top of a symbolic representation of the god Neptune; within the third medallion is applied King Carol’s cipher, secured with four small rivets and inside the fourth medallion is engraved the inscription MAY 1894 in italics. This particular medallion has two additional spots for drilling holes, making it possible to add other ornaments. Along the stem, which is separated from the truncated-cone-shaped stand by a grooved band, were applied  four dolphins, secured with four rivets, and below the cup there are three eagle heads, secured with rivets. The small-sized cup is truncated-cone-shaped, its base is shorter at the bottom and its mouth is decorated with two rows of overlapped  leaves going over the brim.

    The Coat of Arms which appears on the stand of the cup is the one used by Romania after the country was elevated to the status of kingdom in 1881. The crown, which surmounts the purpure

     mantle, for which polished silver was used, is the steel one. The two lions that support the shield on which the heraldic symbols of the Romanian provinces are depicted, have their tales in a modified position, placed on their backs, not between their legs, as they were represented until Romania became independent. Below there is the motto of the Romanian Royal House: NIHIL SINE DEO. The cross symbolizing the Order of the Romanian Star, established by Carol I in 1877, which usually appeared on the Romanian coat of arms at that epoch, is missing.

    The piece comes from the Fund of the Romanian Royal House. During the communist era the Buftea Cinematographic Studios owned it until 1974, when official documents record its entrance in the patrimony of the National History Museum of Romania.

    In the inventory logs kept at the National State Archives in Bucharest, in the Palaces and Castles Fund, in folder no. 229, is kept a silverware inventory for 1937 in which the keeper of the Cotroceni castle signaled at page 90, position 133, inside cabinet no. 12, the presence of two gilt silver cups, with stem, with the inscription “European Commission of the Danube 1902”. From this short description, characteristic of the register, it does not result with certainty if on both cups, or only on the second one, was engraved the year 1902, so it is possible that on one of the cups there was another year engraved. According to existent sources, we cannot determine with precision that the cup fragment preserved in the museum’s Silverware collection is one of the two above-mentioned. Starting with 1862, before Carol became ruler of Walachia, then with his support, the European Commission of the Danube was involved until 1902 in the execution of several works meant to facilitate the navigation on the Sulina branch, the only channel on the lower Danube that was navigable during the 19th century, so we can argue that there probably existed more objects commemorating the modernization works undertaken between 1862-1902.

    Not only the technique, but also the method through which these commemorative objects were made show that in most cases the workshop or the silversmith produced the object before the event to which it was dedicated, leaving spaces on which engravings or ornaments relevant for the person to whom the item was addressed could be added later. Sometimes the person who commissioned the object or the one who received it added or attached meaningful inscriptions in remembrance of the event, after it took place. In the case of this cup, it is possible that the inscription was engraved later, at the  request of the king, who is said to have expressed his wish to keep the cup received in 1894 as a priced gift, a symbol of the high consideration which he had shown towards Romania’s progress on the road of modernization.

    The indication in the text – cup of old silver – is especially interesting because we do not believe that it referred to the quality or value of the silver, in which case the term “old” could be a substitute for “high quality”. Silver, as a material, does not change its properties in time, nor does it increases in value with time, as we would assume after first reading the text. On a different interpretative approach, this specification about a cup made “of old silver” rather brings to question the style, the shape of the bowl. The 19th century preference for copying ancient artistic styles, which were considered superlatives of beauty, is not a novelty, being, on the contrary, well documented.

    The champagne cup raised during the toast in 1894, and about which the king said - not randomly or spontaneously, out of politeness- that he would keep, cannot be a simple silver champagne cup. The organization of such a diplomatic event was planned and known in detail. The king was familiar with the preparations made for diplomatic events and had probably known that a cup was going to bemade for the toast. When commissioning such an object, several criteria were taken into consideration: the rank of the person to whom it was dedicated, the circumstances in which it was offered and not lastly the desire to make a good impression, if not a “perfect” one. The cup was commissioned to a workshop in Berlin, which was not a random choice for a monarch of German descent. In addition, the style of the stand is truly royal. Those who commissioned the piece wanted to meet all the requirements of the event. This type of cup/chalice with stand and stem is well represented in previous centuries, being present, in various forms, from the middle ages until modern times. A new and most likely meaning of the phrase “cup of old silver” is that it probably emphasized the old-style quality of the workmanship, a style which, being appreciated by the king, could not have been ignored by those who commissioned the piece. 

    Historical sources on the event

    Dimitrie A. Sturdza, prime minister starting with 1895, reports the conversation between the king and the Ottoman delegate of the European Commission of the Danube at the moment when a “polished cup of old silver” was raised for a toast: “Sir, the European Commission of the Danube is happy and proud to inaugurate today, under Your Majesty’s auspices, the completion of this considerable work, made possible thanks to the support you have given to the government (…). The presence of your August Person at this ceremony is the best reward for the people who realized the works. Allow me, sir, to express my deepest gratitude and to wish you a prosperous and joyful reign”. The king’s answer fitted the importance of the event, with direct allusions to the constant royal concern about the evolution of the works: “I was glad about each progress that was made. Today I feel a great satisfaction inaugurating this significant work on the Sulina branch, which is a new and important facilitation of navigation on the lower Danube. I congratulate the engineers of the Commission for the design and success of such an important work and I raise this beautiful cup, which I will preserve as a precious memory of this interesting day, wishing the Commission many more future such wonderful successes in fulfilling the great work and the beautiful mission that Europe has entrusted it them with”.

    The social importance that king Carol I attributed to attending in person the official opening of the new navigable channel on the Sulina branch also transpires from his private correspondence in which the monarch makes numerous references to the event whose guest of honour he was. Although festivities of several other personal businesses were supposed to take place in the same period, the king made time for this important matter of state.

    In a letter dated March the 10th /20th 1894, sent from Bucharest and addressed to his mother, princess Josephine Friederike Luise de Baden, in which he confessed to be overwhelmed with matters of state, the uncertain political climate, characterized by “unpleasant incidents and political unrest (…) targeting the government which the Opposition wants to overthrow at all costs” he let her know that he was not able to attend the marriage of his fraternal nephew, Carol de Hohenzollern, son of Leopold, to Josephine of Flandra, which was going to take place in Brussels, because he had accepted the invitation of the European Commission of the Danube to attend the grand opening of the new channel on the Sulina branch”. The marriage was to be officiated on May the 11th /18th 1894, which coincided with the festivities of the inauguration of the navigable channel on the Danube. Moreover, he justified his absence from such a major family event by having an important matter of state scheduled after the festivities in Sulina, that is, his attendance, on May the 10th /22nd, at “our great national celebration that cannot be performed without me”.

    In another letter, dated approximately a month before and addressed to his sister Maria of Flandra, Carol requested the postponement of the marriage, invoking the agitated political situation in his  country and the need for him to participate in state events, which did not allow him to neglect his monarchic duties for a private affair. However, he expressed his hope that “you are going to grant my heart’s wish of being present at a family celebration”.

    He claimed the same preoccupation for matters of state from other members of the family. In another letter sent from Bucharest to his brother Leopold de Hohenzollern, on April the 23rd / May the 5th 1894 he mentioned: “Here [in Romania] everybody is keen on attending the great ceremony in Sulina and the celebrations on May the 10th / 22nd (…) I have suggested the kids [prince Ferdinand and princess Mary] to come here after the wedding in Coburg and then to all go to Brussels together, but I have not received any answer” (…)”. 

    Referring to the same event organized by the European Commission of the Danube, Carol announced his family that he had accepted the invitation to attend the ceremony. On May the 2nd / 14th 1894 he wrote to his sister Maria of Flandra from Bucharest and informed her about the arrangements in the royal schedule: “The day after tomorrow (Wednesday) I leave for Sulina to preside the festivities there and on Saturday I return here, where I have three days to solve countless problems, especially of military nature, and attend the national holiday”.

    The  presence of officials at the inauguration of the new channel on the Sulina branch was notable, marking an event of great importance for the external prestige of the young Romanian state, which was not exempted, in the future, according to Gh. Paul Jurgea Negrilesti, from great diplomatic difficulties when the interests of the Great Power were involved.

    According to Gh. Paul Jurgea Negrileşti, born in November 1904, so after the 1894 event, but a good connoisseur of issues attaining to the European Commission of the Danube and its presence at the mouth of the Danube: “The European Commission of the Danube was established in 1858, at Great Britain’s initiative and was directed against Russia. Her role was to make the Danube navigable from Galati to Sulina, therefore until the Black Sea”. 

    It was a state within a state, it imposed taxes and laws or, more precisely, regulations with power of law. So Romania justly considered her national sovereignty affected, but took comfort in the fact that the Russians were even more bothered by the commission. After the disaster in Crimea (1850), the imperial government had had great difficulties in being accepted among the great powers that administrated the C.E.D. 

    However, in 1914 the balance between the great powers had modified in such a way that my grandfather (the maternal grandfather of Gh. Jurgea Negrileşti was Pierre de Kartamischew, the Russian consul to Galati, the official delegate of the Empire in matters concerning the European Commission of the Danube in 1914) had become the president of the C.E.D. In this capacity, my grandfather was entitled to a “stationary”, that is a battleship belonging to the Imperial Russian Navy, which theoretically was supposed to protect – if necessary with fire - the Consulate. Although nobody had hostile intentions, the battleship remained anchored in the middle of the Danube, according to what the 1856 protocol had established. The Romanian Government had protested many times, invoking national sovereignty, which was however ignored by the Great Powers, the ones who owned the most cannons.

    Jurgea Negrilesti’s memoirs, although not a contemporary of the event, contain essential details about the diplomatic importance that the 1894 moment had in what concerns Romania’s foreign relations and the presence of high ranking officials at the mouth of the Danube.

    The events of May the 17th -18th 1894

    According to the protocol, on the morning of May the 17th 1894, the delegates of the European Commission of the Danube waited for the king on the peer, wearing gala uniforms, so that the king and his suite could climb aboard the “Orient”, a ship under the Commission’s flag.

    The king’s suite comprised: the Prime Minister – Lascar Catargiu, the Minister for Foreign Affairs – Alexandru Lahovary, the Minister of Agriculture and domains – Petre P. Carp, the Minister of Finance – G. Olanescu, the Secretary General for Foreign Affairs – D. Ghica, General Manager of the Crown Estates – Ioan Kalinderu and high ranking officers of the Romanian Army: General Vladescu, General Barozzi, Commander of the Third Army Corps in Galati, General Murgescu, Commande of the Flotilla.

    On the “Orient” the king and his suite were awaited by diplomats of the European Powers: Gustave Coutouly, Minister of France in Bucharest, Count Agenor Goluchowsky, Minister for Austria – Hungary in Romania, Count Courtopassi, Head of the Italian Legion in the Kingdom, his German homologue, Count Casimir Leyden, Chemsud of Bey, Turkish Minister to Romania, Baron Wrangel, Russian chargé d'affaires in Romania and others. The “Carolus Primus” yacht of the European Commission of the Danube navigated in front of the official convoy, which was led by the “Orient”. In the afternoon of the same day, the ships reached mile 18, at the entrance of the new navigation channel. The stationary battleships of Great Britain, Austro-Hungary, Germany and France  (Cokatrice, Faurus, Loreley, Petrel) were waiting for them on the other shore, as Dimitrie A. Sturdza recounts. The presence of Russia’s stationary battleship is not mentioned.  

    At the crossroad of the old and the new canal, the “Mircea” brig fired, in sign of honor, 21 gun salutes, marking the opening of the ceremonies, a moment whose importance equals that which the royal toast (with a champagne cup made of old polished silver, which is recorded to have been kept by the king as a precious gift, a souvenir of this event) has for this article.

    In this respect we consider the words spoken by Dimitrie A. Sturdza in the Romanian Parliament, in 1880, a sincere appreciation for the efforts made by Carol I in order to create a strong and modern kingdom: “The progresses made by our country since King Carol I ascended to the throne have been significant. The events that we have lived have also been grave and important. However, they prove that the nation could not have chosen a better sovereign in 1866. We know it and feel it. It is the moment to say it, so that it can be written abroad that we fully recognize it.”

    Other information about the interest that the king showed towards the exploitation of natural resources of the Danube and the laying out of this strategically and militarily important river, and also about his attachment to the beauties of the Danube, come from Grigore Antipa, a member of the Romanian Academy as well as of other foreign academies. With the direct support of King Carol I, Antipa devised a viable plan for the safe exploitation of fisheries in the floodplain and the delta of the Danube. The first marine biological researches of the Romanian savant were undertaken with the support of his majesty, who put at his disposal the Elisabeta Cruiser for the 1893 expedition dedicated to the studying of the Danube and the Black Sea. Antipa talks about the king’s pleasure to travel on the Danube, which he did annually during his last ten years of life, at the beginning of the month of May, in order to watch the draining works on the canals. He also tells us about the inauguration of the Price Ferdinand Canal, in the last year of the king’s life, who was worried not only about the material quality of the works entrusted to Anghel Saligny, but also about the implications of the modernization process on the river’s environment, fauna and flora.

    The name of Anghel Saligny is also unmistakably tied to the designing of the bridge in Cernavoda, inaugurated in 1895, a year after the opening of the navigable channel on the Sulina branch. The ceremonies took place with great fast in the presence of the royal family and other high ranking guests, as it is narrated by Admiral Ion Coanda, and the setting of the cornerstone of the Constanta bridge during the following days was the first step in the building of the future modern harbor. The construction was finalized at the end of December 1895 and its realization was possible due to the direct help of King Carol I. By the end of the following year, thanks to the honorable initiatives of its ruler, in Romania had been created a legislative framework which made possible the establishing of a strong organization, the Romanian Maritime Company, for the navigation of persons and goods on the Black Sea and the Danube.