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Grand!

The silver furniture of the Guelfs

Exhibition

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In a special exhibition the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum is presenting the precious silver furniture of the Guelfs which was moved to the Museum as a permanent loan from the Marienburg in 2019.

The objects were created by different workshops of the best gold and silversmiths from Augsburg in two stages between roughly 1725 and 1730. They are works by artists of the famous goldsmith dynasties of Biller and Drentwett. The pieces of silver furniture, already celebrated as ‘royal’ pieces at the time of their creation, represent examples of a level of craftsmanship in silverwork that has hardly ever been surpassed since. The ensemble of these rare works still extant is of outstanding international quality.

The commissioners of these silver treasures

The first eight of these pieces of silver furniture – the two splendid mirrors, two tables and four guéridons (side or candle tables) – were commissioned by Prince Maximilian Wilhelm of Hanover (1666-1726), the younger brother of King George I, who resided in Vienna.

Prince Maximilian Wilhelm lived as an imperial general in Vienna and had converted to Catholicism. This was all the more a reason for him to emphasize his descent from one of the oldest European dynasties. For this reason, the pieces of furniture are decorated with numerous heraldic symbols of the Guelfs – among these are the lions (Lüneburg) and leopards (Brunswick) as coats of arms, as well as the splendidly three-dimensional Guelfic horses on the table frames and the finials of the mirrors. These spectacular works of the highest artistic quality served as a permanent symbol of his and his family’s dynastic entitlement.

Prince Maximilian Wilhelm did, however, not have long to enjoy these precious objects. He died as early as 1726, shortly after the pieces had been completed. Duke Augustus Wilhelm of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1662-1731) acquired the silver furniture immediately after the death of his kinsman and had them taken to Brunswick where they found a new home in the so-called Grauer Hof, the town palace of the duke which was then still under construction. The armchair and the four other chairs were commissioned by him to complement the ensemble. They were also made in the workshop of Philipp Jakob Drentwett in Augsburg. This old trading town of transregional importance was the international center of silver work in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Augustus Wilhelm did not have much time either to enjoy his collection, which now consisted of 15 pieces. He died in 1731 and thus, continued the journey of the silver ensemble across Europe.

 

The adventurous journey of the silver furniture

As Augustus Wilhelm left large debts to his successor, he immediately sold the silver furniture to the rival electoral-royal line of Guelfs in Hanover. King George II (1683-1760) indicated the transfer of ownership by having his monogram added to the armchairs. The pieces of furniture were installed in George’s electoral residence, the Leineschloss in Hanover, where they became a highlight of courtly representation of one the most important European noble houses.

 

In 1803, the items, together with the entire silver of the Leineschloss, were taken to England to secure them from the advancing French army. There they became, at least for a time, part of the furnishing of Windsor Castle. King George IV had the pieces taken back to Hanover when he began redesigning the Leineschloss in the neo-classical style. When the Kingdom of Hanover was annexed by the Prussians in 1866, however, King George V took the pieces with him into his Austrian exile. In the late 19th century they belonged to the Duke of Cumberland, as the former crown prince Ernst Augustus of Hanover (1845-1923) was now called. They were installed in his palace in Vienna and had thus arrived at the place where their journey began.

In 1933/34 the last Duke of Brunswick relocated from Austria to Schloss Blankenburg in the Harz Mountains. Thus the silver furniture found its way to the Brunswick region for the second time until they were taken by the British occupation forces to Schloss Marienburg in 1945. In 1952 the pieces were exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, became temporarily part of the exhibition in Herrenhausen Palace in 1955, only to return to Marienburg again afterwards.

They now – for the third time in three centuries – have a temporary abode in the Brunswick region. They will return to Schloss Marienburg as soon as they can be presented there in an appropriate fashion after the restoration works.

 

Contact

Dr. Martina Minning

Head of Applied Arts

Email m.minning@3landesmuseen.de
Phone +49 531 1225 - 2407
Fax +49 531 1225 - 2408

Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum
Museumstr. 1
38100 Braunschweig