Dom Fernando’s Silver

On Wednesday, Sotheby’s London sold five pieces which belonged to the collection of King Dom Fernando of Portugal, totalling the nice sum of GBP 1,053,850 / EUR 1,328,000.

From Sotheby’s catalogue:

Lot 1, A PORTUGUESE SILVER BOWL AND COVER, LISBON, LATE 17TH CENTURY; Maker’s mark MF (Almeida No. L-415) Conjoined, 31cm. Estimate 20,000-30,000 GBP; Lot Sold: 37,250 GBP

Lot 2, A  SILVER-GILT  CIRCULAR  DISH,  HISPANIC  OR  ITALIAN,  FIRST  HALF  OF  THE  16TH  CENTURY; crowned cypher  F  and  inventory  number  No.  6, unmarked, Estimate 30,000-50,000 GBP; Lot Sold: 115,250 GBP

Lot 3, A  SILVER-GILT FLAGON,  HISPANIC  OR  ITALIAN,  FIRST  HALF  OF  THE  16TH  CENTURY, engraved  underneath  with  royal  cypher  F  and  numbered  N  26,  unmarked, Estimate 80,000-120,000 GBP; Lot Sold: 565,250 GBP

Lot 4, A  SILVER-GILT  SALVER  ON  LATER  BASE,  SPANISH  OR  PORTUGUESE,  MID-16TH  CENTURY, incorporating  a  fountain  dated  1548,  later  detachable  stem,  foot  and  disc,  unmarked, Estimate 20,000-30,000 GBP; Lot Sold: 58,850 GBP

Lot 5, PORTUGUESE  SILVERGILT  SALVER  ON  FOOT,  MAKER’S  MARK  IE,  PROBABLY  PORTUGESE, EARLY  16TH  CENTURY,  THE  RIM  CIRCA  1600, Estimate 70,000-90,000 GBP; Lot Sold: 277,250 GBP

The following five lots come from the same European princely family. Prior to that, they probably all belonged to Dom Fernando II, King of Portugal (1816-1885), prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, three having his cypher and inventory numbers (lots I, II and III) and a fourth being recorded as his property in the 1882 exhibition in Lisbon (lot IV). Dom Fernando’ s first cousin Albert was consort to Queen Victoria and his uncle Leopold, later first King of the Belgians, married Princess Charlotte, only legitimate child of the Prince Regent. After his own marriage to the sixteenyear-old year Queen Maria of Portugal in 1836, whose first husband, Prince August, Duke of Leuchtenberg, had died the year before, Fernando was created King of Portugal on the birth of their first son, Pedro in 1837. Although there was considerable political upheaval during their reign, they were popular monarchs and oversaw many social and modernizing improvements to the country. Queen Maria died during childbirth in 1853 and Dom Fernando assumed the regency during the minority of his son, Pedro V. In 1855, when Pedro reached his majority, Dom Fernando remained in Portugal, living in the Palacio das Necessidades until his death. In 1869, he married an actress, the welleducated Elisa Hensler; she was granted the title of Countess Elda by Ernest II, Duke and head of the house of Saxe-Coburg.

The King was ‘an accomplished man, skilled in languages and literature.’ Adept at etching, pottery and painting aquarelles and porcelain, he was also President of the Royal Academy of Science and Arts in Lisbon, and supported many contemporary artists. In 1838, he commissioned the Prussian mining engineer and architect, Ludwig von Eschwege (1777-1855) to transform the 14th Century monastery of Da Pena at Sintra into a summer residence, which is now considered to a paramount example of 19th Century architectural romanticism. The King built a ‘curious and wonderful collection,’ chiefly at the Palacio das Necessidades, which Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), Union Army General and 18th President of the United States, described as ‘one of the most … interesting houses in Europe.’

 The inventory of Dom Fernando’s collection in the Palacio lists many bronzes, Oriental and European porcelains and pottery, Limoges enamel and rare, early glass displayed in the ‘salho dos vidros.’2 In his study (Gabinete do trabalho do Rei), he kept much of his 15th and 16th Century silver, essentially Portuguese. Two items now offered for sale (lots I and III) are seen in the photograph of this room, displayed on a magnificent display cabinet. The King’s well-known interest in ‘prata manuelina’ was probably stimulated by the royal silver which had been gathered together by Queen Maria, on her return from Brazil to inherit the throne4. This included such richly decorated and embossed late Gothic and Renaissance silver-gilt salvers, tazzas and jugs. Since the 18th Century, the early silver had been traditionally displayed during royal baptisms, ‘prata dourada que serve aos baptizados,’ to be admired by the crowd. Such displays of silver not only enhanced the aura of the royal family but also reminded the country, then in the grip of a growing sense of nationalism, of the superb achievements of Portuguese goldsmiths of the past.

The King was active in other ways in protecting the country’s heritage, especially after the dissolution of the convents in 18345. Most notably he saved the monasteries of Jerónimos and of São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon; he converted the refectory of the latter into a magnificent Pantheon to the House of Braganza. With the closure of the smaller convents, these two monasteries became warehouses as ownership of their silver treasures was transferred to the Portuguese State. The King arranged for many of these treasures to be acquired by the royal house and some were probably absorbed into his own collection.

The royal Portuguese silver and Dom Fernando’s collection were quite separate; they were displayed in different rooms in the palace and were on different inventories. Clearly Dom Fernando felt that some of his property should be indelibly distinguished with his cypher. It is not known when this happened, why some of his property has neither cypher nor numbers or what the numbers engraved on the pieces with his cypher refer; they certainly do not match the main inventory of Dom Fernando’s collection which was made after his death in 1885 and possibly tally with an inventory already in place when he acquired the pieces. Dom Fernando’s will was published in 1885 and in it he apparently left all his possessions to his second wife the countess d’Elda. This created a great scandal, partly because Dom Fernando’s property had always been considered part of the nation’s heritage. In the event, the Countess came to an agreement with King Luis I whereby the palace de Pena and most of Dom Fernando’s collection remained in royal hands. 26 of the 58 early silver pieces from the 1991 Portuguese Royal Treasures exhibition belonged to him, see: exhibition catalogue, Tesouros Reais, Palácio da Ajuda (Lisbon, 1991, pp. 196-247).”

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