Numbering more than 550 objects, many of which are of spectacular quality and rarity, the Ashmolean’s silver collection is one of the most important and finest collections of its kind in the world with many superb items on loan from Oxford colleges.
This gallery focuses on English domestic silver and goldsmiths’ work from the Tudor period to the mid 1700s when London rose to rival Paris as the greatest centre of European craftsmanship and taste. Protestant (Huguenot) refugees who fled to England to escape religious persecution from Catholic France in the late-17th century boosted the London arts scene as many were highly skilled silver workers and their work is well represented in the collection. Huguenot gold and silversmiths were renowned in particular for their skills in casting, embossing and soldering and the Capel Basket, displayed at the far end of the left-hand wall, shows a combination of these techniques. It was made in 1686 by Pierre Harache, the first Huguenot to be admitted to the Goldsmiths’ Company. His outstanding talent meant that by 1689 he was receiving commissions from William III.
The collection of watches and clocks displayed on one wall of the gallery is one of the most important outside London, with fine examples dating from the 16th century. Amongst them are some intriguing examples of 17th-century watches in the shape of a skull, engraved with various mottoes to remind the owner of his own mortality.