Exhibition | Gold

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 4, 2014

67212 6X9

Gold tiger’s head ornament from Tipu Sultan’s throne, 1785–93; made from gold sheet over a wooden core with finely chased and punched decoration, set with rock crystal eyes, rock crystal teeth, and a hinged gold tongue, the mouth open as if roaring. Presented to William IV by the East India Company in 1831 (Royal Collection, inventory 67212)

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Press release (8 August 2014) from The Royal Collection:

The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, 7 November 2014 — 22 February 2015

The beauty and symbolism of gold, from the Early Bronze Age to the 20th century, is celebrated in an exhibition opening at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace in November. Through 50 items drawn from across the entire breadth of the Royal Collection, Gold explores the distinctive qualities that make this rare and precious metal an enduring expression of the highest status, both earthly and divine.

Over millennia and across diverse cultures, gold has been used to represent and reflect royal wealth and power. Among the most striking examples in the exhibition are the Rillaton gold cup, from a Bronze Age burial around 1700–1500 BC, a gold crown from Ecuador that pre-dates the Inca invasion, and a tiger’s head in gold and rock crystal from the throne of Tipu Sultan (1785–93), ruler of Mysore in India.

Many of the sacred and ceremonial items associated with the coronations of British monarchs incorporate gold. The exhibition includes a design from 1760 by Sir William Chambers and Giovanni Battista Cipriani for the Gold State Coach, the most expensive coach ever made, which has been used at every coronation since that of George IV. John Whittaker’s illustrated account of the Ceremonial of the Coronation of King George IV in the Abbey of St. Peter’s Westminster, 1823, is printed entirely in gold. Only six copies of the book were ever produced, and the project bankrupted the author. The painting Queen Victoria Receiving the Sacrament at her Coronation, 28 June 1838 by Charles Robert Leslie shows the Queen dressed in the shimmering Dalmatic Robe standing in a pool of golden sunlight.

Highly malleable and versatile, gold has been used to decorate every possible surface, from paper and silk to wood and silver. The exhibition shows gold incorporated into lacquer on a pair of 18th-century Japanese bowls and applied over carved gesso on a table by James Moore, who created furniture for Queen Anne and George I. A cigarette case by Carl Fabergé, presented to King Edward VII by the Dowager Tsarina of Russia in 1903, is made from three colours of gold that have been produced by mixing gold with other metals for a spectacular decorative effect.

The Padshahnama (Chronicle of the King of the World), 1656–57, is the finest Islamic manuscript in the Royal Collection. Written on paper flecked with gold, it forms an official record of the first ten years of the reign of Shah-Jahan, fifth Mughal emperor and builder of the Taj Mahal. Every year an amount equal to the Emperor’s weight in gold, silver and other precious items was distributed as alms, to prevent him suffering any corporeal or spiritual catastrophes. In a page from the manuscript in the exhibition, Shah-Jahan sits cross-legged in the pan of a set of golden scales.

Among other highlights of the exhibition are an early 16th-century Book of Hours illustrated with gilded miniatures by Jean Pichore, Simon van de Passe’s engraved gold portrait medallion of Elizabeth I, and two landscapes by the 17th-century artist Pier Francesco Cittadini which are drawn in pen and ink on paper covered in gold leaf. William Nicholson’s still life Gold Jug, 1937, is from the artist’s small series of works looking at the play of light on metallic surfaces.


Sir William Chambers, Pen and ink and watercolour design for the King’s State Coach, 1760; made for George III, bought from Colnaghi by the Prince Regent (later George IV), 12 June 1811 (Royal Collection, Inventory 917942)

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From the Royal Collection Trust and distributed by The University of Chicago Press:

Kathryn Jones, Lauren Porter, and Jennifer Scott, Gold (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2014), 120 pages, ISBN 978-1909741102, £25 / $40.

9781909741102Gold is the most coveted of metals, its rarity and radiant natural beauty making imbuing it with rich meaning throughout human history. For artists, gold has long been associated with the divine. For monarchs, it has been a means of symbolizing status and wealth. With Gold, Kathryn Jones, Lauren Porter, and Jennifer Scott have written a lively and highly informative cultural history of gold in the Royal Collection, one that explores its many manifestations throughout history and its use in promoting messages of power and wealth.

Drawing on the Royal Collection’s unparalleled collection of paintings, miniatures, jewelry, gold boxes, and drawings in and on gold, the book takes readers through the possibilities of this noble metal. Organized thematically, chapters include ‘Divinity’, which covers gold in devotional art; ‘Power’, which explores the role of gold as a symbol of status and wealth; and ‘Art’, which presents the craftsmanship and indestructible quality of gold objects. From Fabergé’s astonishing gold-mounted boxes to the nearly-four-thousand-year-old Rillaton Gold Cup and drawings in gold paint by Edward Burne-Jones, this lavish book—in its own gold binding—presents this most precious substance throughout history in one hundred full-color illustrations.

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