Research

The Sun King's Silver: A Technical Study of Precious Metals from the Court of Louis XIV

Christina will undertake this project as a Visiting Fellow at the V&A in London between June to October, 2018.  By examining gold and silver objects and drawings, paintings and tapestries which depict them, Christina will identify metalsmithing techniques used to produce gold and silver objects for Louis XIV in order to determine if the techniques used reflect advances in French metalsmithing during this period.  Given the concern of Louis and his image-makers to promote the king’s gloire and French industry by showcasing France’s artistic and technological prestige in the court at Versailles, it is possible that techniques used to produce plate for the king reflect attempts to demonstrate France’s pre-eminence in silversmithing, just as was the case for textiles, mirror production, printmaking and other industries.  This project will be funded by an Endeavour Research Fellowship from the Australian government.



Silversmithing Practice in the Cultural and Technological Isolation of Pre-Goldrush Australia

Silver plate and flatware produced in the early Australian colonies presents an interesting perspective on the aspirations of and challenges facing early European settlers.  Despite their physical isolation, many settlers nonetheless sought to maintain the customs and behaviours of respectable bourgeois European society.  This entailed the performance of the rituals of sociability such as formal meals, the taking of tea and the display of respectable ettiquette, and the conspicuous consumption of valuable and fashionable goods, including silverplate and flatware. Entrepreneurial silversmiths established themselves in the colonies to cater to this market but, especially prior to the 1851 goldrushes, it would have been particularly challenging to produce silverwares because of limited raw materials, technological isolation and the scarcity of professionally-trained workers.  For these reasons, much of the silverware sold at this time was imported from Europe, but some pieces were still locally produced.

This project seeks to identify how the challenges caused by isolation are manifest in the manufacturing techniques used by early Australian silversmiths prior to 1851, when massive immigration brought in more skilled silversmiths with modern equipment and larger markets to support the trade, and the new mines provided plentiful raw material to work with, not only gold, but silver created as a by-product of the refining process.  Through the examination of silver objects to identify manufacturing techniques and the analysis of the metal composition of selected objects, this project will discover new information about early Australian silversmithing and the challenges faced by early settlers trying to maintain European customs and lifestyles.  Dr Clarke is undertaking this project in concert with the Conservation laboratory at the National Gallery of Australia, working with the Houstone Collection of Early Australian Silver.



Metal-Vessel Manufacturing Technology as an Indicator of Migration in the Regions Spanning the Mediterranean to Central Asia during the Third Millennium BC

This aim of this project is to explore evidence of shared metallurgical techniques, in this case those used for the production of metal vessels, as a means for identifying the movements of peoples. Whereas typological similarities between the material cultures of different regions can result from the importation and subsequent imitation of styles, there are some aspects of vessel manufacture which may reflect temporary or permanent movements of peoples. This is because the complex nature of some techniques would require extended, face-to-face contact between peoples such as would result from the temporary or permanent migration of artisans. Many influences of Egyptian artistic traditions on those of Minoan Crete, for example, result from the import of Egyptian goods, whereas the Minoan influence on Mycenaean traditions is generally regarded to be a result of not only the import of Minoan goods but also of the movement of Minoan artisans to mainland Greece.  This long-term, ongoing project is currently awaiting fundng.



The Manufacture of Minoan Metal Vessels: Theory and Practice

This interdisciplinary study investigated the metalsmithing techniques and technology used to produce metal vessels in Bronze Age Crete.  Dr Clarke undertook this research as a PhD candidate at the ANU School of Art Gold and Silversmithing Workshop between 2008 and 2012 under the supervision of Assoc Prof Johannes Kuhnen and Dr Ann Moffatt.  A monograph of the study was published by Astrom Editions in 2013.

About the project

This study aimed to establish the equipment and methods used to make hammered metal vessels in Crete during the Bronze Age by combining archaeological research with metalsmithing practice.  The most substantial studies to date have been largely typological.  Some have examined the equipment and processes used, but usually without fully taking into account the metalsmithing techniques involved in vessel manufacture.  An understanding of the equipment required and the manner in which it is used provides a new perspective on the Minoan craft and its practitioners.

The initial stages of the study involved investigating Minoan vessel types and characteristics, and studying excavation reports on Bronze Age metallurgical sites in Crete as well as publications on the metallurgy of Minoan Crete and other Bronze Age cultures.  The second stage was the detailed examination of a number of Minoan vessels in collections in Crete and the UK.  The final stage was to replicate tools and equipment found at Minoan metallurgical sites and to test their viability for making Minoan metal-vessel forms.  The processes involved annealing, the application of different hammering methods, riveting and polishing techniques.  These reconstructed processes led to the creation of two small bowls, a hydria made from separate sections (pictured here) and a one-handled basin.

The results of this research and the replication of equipment and techniques made it possible to reconstruct the processes used to make these vessels.  Several other discoveries were made which have broader implications.  Firstly, the reconstructive process revealed some of the physical aspects of the craft which would have affected the working practices of Minoan smiths and the roles of individuals within a workshop.  Secondly, the study showed that simple tools found at many Minoan metallurgical sites are very effective for creating these vessels.  Furthermore, the results suggest that metalsmithing may have occurred at more locations than are currently recognised as metallurgical sites.  Lastly, it was discovered that both the forms and the often large sizes of Minoan vessels and, by extension, many Mycenaean vessels were determined by the types of tools that the smiths used.  This has implications for how we might interpret these vessels within the broader context of the metal-vessel traditions of other contemporary cultures.


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© Dina Clarke 2017