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Burges Decanter: M.16-1972

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Object information

Current Location: In storage


Burges Decanter


Designer: Burges, William
Mount maker: Mendelson, Josiah
Mount maker: Angell, George




Green glass, mounted in silver set with malachite, semi-precious stone, cloisonné enamels, coral cameos, intaglios, classical coins, ivory and rock crystal

Dark green blown glass body, mounted in silver with applied and engraved ornament, set with malachite panels, semi-precious stone, cloisonné enamels, two 17th century coral cameos each of a nymph's head, one of Cupid holding a basket, and another of Cupid holding a garland, a Roman first century AD nicolo intaglio of a sleeping hound, a Sassanian 5th or 6th century cornelian intaglio of a personal device and six silver-mounted ancient coins; on the neck, a Thracian silver drachm, struck at Byzantion (c. 340-320 BC) and a Roman silver siliqua of Julian II (361-363), possibly struck at the mint in Arles, France; on the body, a Byzantine gold lightweight solidus of Justinian (527-565)m a Byzantine electrum histamenon nomisma of Nicephorus III (1078-81), a Roman silver argentus of Constntine I (307-337) issued during his time as Caesar, dating from 305-307 and struck at the mint in Trier, Germany, and a Byzantine gold histamenon nomisma of Basil II (976-1025). The hinged cover with a Chinese rock crystal Buddhist lion surrounded by leafy foliage (two pieces missing) and a silver palisade, surmounted by a hoop with silver bell, the underside of the cover with an agate, surrounded by silver foliage. The cast silver handle is in the form of a winged lion with a carved elephant-ivory head, and the spout is cast in the form of an antelope's head with emerald eye, with a silver stopper attached by a chain. The foot is engraved with a hedgehog, a frog, a mouse, and a wren with a worm in its beak, and the 'signature' 'I WREN' for Jenny Wren. The partly obscured inscription on the neck reads: WILLIELMUS BURGES ME FIERI FECIT ANNO DI MDCCCLXV EX HONS ECCL[ESI]AE CONSTANTINOPOLITANAE


History note: William Burges (1827-1881). Charles Handley-Read (1916-1972)and Lavinia Handley-Read (d. 1972); purchased from Thomas Stainton, Executor of the Handley-Read Estate

Legal notes

Purchased with the Perceval Fund and with the Regional Fund administered by the Victoria & Albert Museum

Measurements and weight

Height: 27.3 cm
Height: 10¾ in
Width: 19 cm
Width: 7½ in

Place(s) associated

  • London ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bought (1972-10-19) by Handley-Read Estate


19th Century, third quarter#
1865 CE - 1866 CE


William Burges was one of the most talented English architects of the High Victorian Gothic Revival. His eclectic taste, love of vivid colouring, and super-abundant inventive powers brought forth a stream of idosyncratic designs for buildings and domestic objects. He took inspiration from myriad places, cultures and sources, which resulted in an eclectic and fantastical style that he applied to all of his designs. He designed this complex decanter for use in his own home, where it complemented the brightly coloured interiors and painted furniture that he had commissioned from artists such as Rossetti and Burne-Jones. This decanter demonstrates his flair for combining disparate elements to create an aesthetically satisfying whole. Burges had already conceived the design in 1858, when a similar vessel was shown with several pieces of metalwork in a watercolour serving as the frontispiece of his Orfèvrerie Domestique (RIBA Drawings collection). On the 10th, 11th and 12th sheets of this, there are further drawings for the decanter, the last of which is dated 1864. It was made in 1865 as were two variants: one made for Burges himself, now in the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford; the other made for James Nicholson, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (see Documentation). The decoration of the mounts is reminiscent of early medieval crucifixes studded with re-used Roman cameos, intaglios, and uncut gemstones. The foliage applied to the body is also medieval in inspiration, as are the animals humorously engraved on the foot. The inscription indicates that Burges paid for the decanter from the fees which he had received for his prize-winning design of 1856 and later modifications to it, for the Crimea Memorial Church in Constantinople. This, like several of his architectural projects, was never built because its estimated cost proved too high.

School or Style

High Victorian
Gothic Revival

People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Cover Finial composed of quartz crystal ( Buddhist lion)
Decoration composed of coral ( cameo) enamel ( cloisonné) gold ( coin) hardstone ( malachite)
Body composed of glass ( dark green)
Handle Head composed of ivory ( lion's head)
Mounts composed of silver
Foot Diameter 10.7 cm Diameter 4¼ in
Elephant Ivory
Rock Crystal

Inscription or legends present

  • Text: I WREN
  • Location: On the foot
  • Method of creation: Engraved
  • Type: Inscription
  • Location: On neck
  • Method of creation: Engraved
  • Type: Inscription
  • Text: JM
  • Location: On mount on front and on foot
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Maker's mark

Inscription present: lion passant

  • Location: On mount on front and on foot
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Hallmark

Inscription present: leopard's head

  • Location: On mount
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Hallmark
  • Text: k
  • Location: On mount on front and on foot
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Hallmark

Inscription present: monarch's head

  • Location: On mount on front and on foot
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Hallmark
  • Text: GA
  • Location: On hoop over finial
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Maker's mark

Inscription present: lion passant

  • Location: On hoop over finial
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Hallmark

Inscription present: monarch's head

  • Location: On hoop over finial
  • Method of creation: Struck
  • Type: Hallmark

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.16-1972
Primary reference Number: 99083
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Friday 10 November 2023 Last processed: Wednesday 7 February 2024

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Burges Decanter" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-04-23 03:51:07

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