Gallery 281, second floor
The great age of domestic Irish silver began in the closing decades of the seventeenth century and lasted until the years shortly after the Act of Union of 1800, when Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain (today split into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland). Many of the pieces from this period were made in Dublin, the second largest city in the British Empire and the political, economic, and social center of Ireland. The Protestant gentry who came to prominence in Ireland under King William III (reigned 1689–1702) entertained lavishly and led the demand for such wares. Like their English counterparts, they sought to accumulate possessions that demonstrated wealth and status.
Due to the political and geographical connections of the period, Irish silversmiths had easy access to English models and often imitated their forms and designs. Some of the silver produced, however, resulted from Irish craftsmen originating their own styles and types of decoration. The two-handled cup, usually reserved for ceremonial occasions, was a favorite Irish form, and the Museum's collection includes a number of monumental examples. One such model features handles in the shape of harps, the traditional symbol of the Irish nation.
Donna Corbin • Associate Curator of European Decorative Arts