A spritely, seasonal prance through the fields and meadows of Spring, and it's impact on glass and porcelain decoration
Given the arcadian and pastoral obsession of creative sorts in the 18th and 19th centuries, it’s not surprising that the changing seasons were a recurring theme in the fruits of their labours. Nature’s progression throughout the year was singularly important to the pre-Industrial revolution inhabitants of the UK, with the all aspects of life being significantly influenced by the prevailing weather and time of year.
Now, of course, we are far more insulated from slavishly having to live our lives by the rigours of the passing weeks and months, but we are on the cusp of spring nonetheless, and it’s an apposite time to remember how important such things were in times past, and how often they provided the subject matter for artistic enterprise.
In the first instance, and as pictured in the accompanying album, we find a Georgian facet cut wine glass, some 235 years old, which bears images evoking all four seasons. This features a fairly generic design of mouldboard single-furrow plough, indicative of the foremost task of the winter months for any farming folk. Once ploughed - and as the season turned to spring - the drag harrow would come in to its own, as the newly plough fields were conditioned to provide a suitably good tilth on to which seeds could be broadcast. This entailed dragging the harrow over the ploughed soil, breaking up the larger sods of earth, disinterring larger stones that may have been turned up and uprooting early weeds. With seed then sown over the prepared soil, the progression in to summer would see it grow, ripen and ultimately be harvested, so the glass bears a sheaf of corn to show the fruits of such labours and a scythe with which the cereal crops would have been reaped. It’s a simple set of designs, but adequately illustrates the annual and cyclical march of the seasons and the pleasing simplicity of the engraving belies the nicely-cut stem and overall appeal of the glass.
For our next spring-related ware, something which has somewhat less unambiguous interpretation behind its imagery. One could be forgiven for taking a glass bearing an engraved daffodil at face value – a simple representation of Wordsworth’s quintessential spring flower and a celebration of the arrival of the season which is always punctuated by the swathes of yellow blooms which burst through the late snows and herald the coming warmth. However, if I was to mention the word “Jacobite” then the ears of the practised cryptographer might quite rightly prick up, and as the daffodils share centre stage on this glass with a moth, there is certainly more than meets the eye to the engravings than might appear to be the case at first glance. We have touched elsewhere on such Jacobite symbology – and the meaning of the word and its place in British history – so, to specifics. Moths, of course, are noted as being attracted to light, albeit a sometimes sorry attraction with the connotations of an unfortunate denoument amidst candle flames. However, there are, of course, less immediately dangerous sources of light, notably the sun, and this celestial body has often been associated with kings. At the time of Jacobite pre-eminence in Scottish aspirations, the Auld Alliance with France was at a low ebb but the shared belief in the Divine Right of Kings was still extant, and the court of Louis XIV – the Sun King himself – was fresh in the memory, so any allusion to the sun, or those attracted to it, was a tacit nod to the sovereignty of the old Royal houses and their adherents. As for the daffodil – suggesting the reappearance of brightness after the gloom of a metaphorical winter - what more vibrant a symbol of the restoration of a glorious reign which had been usurped from its rightful throne could there be ? As a pair, the moth and daffodil made for a couple of Jacobite motifs as explicit as could reasonably be displayed in those straightened times of repressed ambition, where covert support for exiled rulers was the order of the day.
The daffodil, of course, is not the only flower associated with spring, and our last example of vernal glassware brings another floral variety to the table, and another healthy dose of Jacobite mysticism.
Tulips are, of course, another spring-flowering genus, and – with the same allusion of emerging from darkness – duly take their place in the catalogue of Jacobite emblems. However, our third and final piece shows how this use of imagery can be taken one step further, as it is an example of an engraved glass which bears an acrostic, where the initial letters of specific items are combined to spell out another word.
It’s a mid 18th century opaque twist wine glass, with a delicate eleven-ply spiral band outside a pair of spiral threads (with those two distinct elements making it a double-series twist). However, it is the engravings on the ogee bowl in which we are primarily interested. Firstly, there is a jay – a common image used to illustrate the usurpation of the Stuart throne by King George who was said to be “like Aesop’s jay – dressed up in borrowed plumes” as in sporting the finery of a position to which he should not be entitled. Then we come to a curious combination of several flowers and plants, which make up the acrostic – or at least, they very nearly do ! We can see a Tulip, an Apple, a Rose and a Thistle and what are purportedly the leaves of the forget-me-not (in itself a simple enough exhortation to remember the ruler in exile). So, we have TuART - but rather than anything to do with Sunderland and Manchester City players of the 1970’s, were are looking for the initial S to complete the word. I have two possible solutions to this missing part of the puzzle for your consideration. Firstly, the forget-me-nots may actually be closed salvia buds to provide a simple remedy; secondly, we must consider the typographic preferences of the day and the fact that a character known as the long or medial “s” was still in everyday use and, when written, this would be virtually indistinguishable from an “f” – simply apply this duplicity to the initial letter of forget-me-not, you have your missing “s” and the word STUART springs out at you ! This is, of course, supposition on my part, and if you have your own idea as to how the hidden word may be better completed, please let me know – I’d be fascinated to know your thoughts !