The Unsurpassed Silversmithing Techniques of Adam van Vianen: His Silver Ewer Unravelled
The magnificent gilded silver ewer Adam van Vianen made in 1614 to commemorate his brother Paulus van Vianen who had died the previous year in Prague, is the pinnacle of the kwabstijl, and of Dutch silversmithing in general. The execution of the raising and embossing is exceptional and had never seen before. Von Sandrart specifically stated in his book that Adam made the whole object out of one piece of silver. It is quite possible that Adam van Vianen applied himself to a quest that many sculptors undertook in the Renaissance: making an object under the most challenging circumstances in their area of expertise. A ewer traditionally consists of a body, foot, handle and a lid with a hinge, which are soldered or screwed together. Adam van Vianen, however, integrated all these separate parts into one dynamic, swirling form, and the absence of clearly separated parts seems to confirm that the ewer is made out of a single piece. To determine once and for all whether the ewer is made out of one piece of silver sheet, an expert team researched the ewer with the aid of X-radiography and formulated a theory as to the way the ewer’s handle was constructed. The research also covered the alloy in Adam van Vianen’s ewer and other objects by his hand in the Rijksmuseum’s collection, and outlined the background of available knowledge on silversmithing in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, and the products available at that time. Finally, reconstructions of silver refining were carried out using two contemporary sources: Bergbuchlein und Probierbuchlein by Calbus of Freiberg (and unknown authors), Leipzig 1524, and Lazarus Ercker’s Beschreibung: Allerfürnemisten Mineralischen Ertzt, und Bergwercks arten … Prague 1574. The complete alloy research in the Rijksmuseum laboratories showed that the alloy was very different from alloys used by other Dutch silversmiths in the same period. A surprising outcome that could very well be connected to the demands Adam van Vianen made on his material.
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