Timeless Silver

Masterpieces of the Silversmith’s Art at the Museum im Prediger

The special “Timeless Silver” exhibition at the Museum im Prediger in Schwäbisch Gmünd (October 23, 2022 – April 10, 2023) focuses on the advantages, versatility and visual properties of the precious metal. In six thematically structured chapters, more than 80 masterpieces of historical and contemporary silversmithing enter into an epoch-spanning dialogue and tell their stories as commissioned works or unconventional artistic creations. Decorative art from the collection of the Gmünd Museum comprise the core of the exhibition. They are complemented by valuable loans from Helga Matzke KG, museum collections and private collections. With further support from the Research Institute for Precious Metals + Metal Chemistry (fem), “Timeless Silver” combines technical innovation with artistic ambition to reveal new perspectives on the shiny metal.

Calvary-shaped cross reliquary, Ulm, 1440/1450 silver, gilt, enamel, copper, gilt, amethyst, cross particles, h 82 cm. © Museum im Prediger, Schwäbisch Gmünd. Photo Jens Bruchhaus.

The exhibition explores the diverse techniques that silversmiths use to shape and artistically elaborate the textures and structures of surfaces. This exploration illuminates the continuity of historical working methods up to the present day. Examples of techniques such as casting, chasing, punching, gilding, engraving and etching are shown. The exhibit aims to convey an appreciation of the quality of the characteristic features of production in Central European craft centers in the early modern period. Selected pieces from Augsburg, Nuremberg, Ulm, London and Paris are on display.

Wilhelm Widemann (1856-1915), centerpiece Triton with sea nymph, Frankfurt a. M., c. 1890, © Museum im Prediger, Schwäbisch Gmünd. Photo Jens Bruchhaus.

The first of the exhibition’s six chapters is devoted to the spirit that characterized the city of Schwäbisch Gmünd as a manufacturing center for gold and silver artifacts. A landmark event was the founding of the Museum of Decorative Arts in 1876, which laid the foundation for the collection by acquiring exemplary items and collecting pieces made of metal that were relevant to the history of style. Selected items from these collections form the core of the first chapter. 

Michael Mair (master c. 1677, d. 1714), Radiant Monstrance, Augsburg, 1695-1700, silver, partially gilded, glass stones; Renaissance pendant: gold, enamel, emeralds, rubies, pearls, h 118 cm. © Museum im Prediger, Schwäbisch Gmünd. Photo Jens Bruchhaus.

The second chapter deals with galvanic methods of refining surfaces and molding precious metal objects. Masterpieces of galvanoplastic reproduction are on display, including the “Pompeian Lady” plate by Elkington & Co. in London and the showpiece of the Hildesheim silver treasure, the Minerva bowl, by Christofle & Cie. in Paris. In addition, a magnificent sphere worked in gold and gold filigree from the Early Celtic “Princess Tomb” at Heuneburg can be admired. The Research Institute for Precious Metals + Metal Chemistry (fem) used a special 3D X-ray computer tomograph to analyze this remarkable artifact. 

The exhibit’s third chapter presents outstanding works from the early 17th century to the present day, thus shedding light on the diversity of technical possibilities for shaping, designing and decorating. Two masterpieces of silversmithing on loan from the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg document why that city was a center of European importance in the 16th and 17th centuries: a pair of finely engraved tumblers made for the Nuremberg patrician family Tetzel around 1610 in the workshop of Hans Pezolt and testifying to the master’s brilliant artistic craftsmanship; and a gilded tulip-shaped goblet from 1673 by Sigmund Bierfreund, whom silver researchers have given the cognomen “Master of the Tulip Cups.” 

Hans Pezolt, (master 1578, d. 1633), Two Tetzel family tumblers, Nuremberg, c. 1610, silver, gilt, chased, cast, engraved, etched, h 18.1 cm and 27.7 cm. © Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. Photo Monika Runge.

The extraordinary color effects that can be achieved with silver in dialogue with other metals, colored gemstones and enamel are shown in the fourth chapter. Magnificent enamels by Wilhelm Widemann demonstrate how enameled metal sculpture can be combined with natural materials to create fantastic works of art. Gilding, metal inlays (niello) and engravings are exemplified in a piece made by the firm of F. Nicoud in Paris and acquired by the Gmünd Museum of Decorative Arts in 1878. In addition, bright blue enamel stripes and exquisite Art Nouveau ornamentation distinguish a silver vase designed by Archibald Knox (1864-1933) for the Liberty department store and acquired by the Gmünd Museum of Decorative Arts in London in 1908. An etched cup by Munich silversmith Peter Bauhuis (*1965) radically defies typical expectations of silver.

Archibald Knox (1864-1933), vase, Birmingham, 1906, sterling silver, partially gilded, enamel, h 14.1 cm. © Museum im Prediger, Schwäbisch Gmünd. Photo Jens Bruchhaus.

The fifth chapter presents silver artworks from the Baroque, Empire and Modern periods that rely on the interaction between highly polished surfaces and sculpturally designed and ornamented parts to create fascinating plays of light and shadow. 

Ausstellungsinstallation „Timeless Silver“ mit Arbeiten von Rolf Poellet, Bossa Nova Mystery, Frankfurt a. M., 2022, Dong-hyun Kim, Kanne „Watering X“, Goyang, Südkorea, 2022, Franz Anton Lang (Maria Immaculata, Augsburg, 1755–1757. © Museum im Prediger und Künstler. Foto Frank Kleinbach.

In the sixth room, “Timeless Silver” examines how trends in contemporary art inscribe themselves in the aesthetics of silver. Themes include the visual dissolution of materiality in light, reflections, mirroring and monochromy. In close conceptual collaboration with Frankfurt-based artist Rolf Poellet (*1962) a space was created especially for the exhibition that can be physically experienced through staging and intermediality, allowing for multiple dialogues and associations. Poellet created a 316-panel artwork called “Bossa Nova Mystery”: spanning all four walls, this painting transforms the illusory space of the picture into a spatial image, thus transforming space into image and vice versa. Poellet’s installation serves not only as a background but also a reflective frame of reference for a late Baroque Maria Immaculata by Augsburg silversmith Franz Anton Lang (master 1752, died after 1769), works by Op Art artists Adolf Luther (1912-1990) and Heinz Mack (*1931), a mirror work by Claudia Wieser (*1973) made especially for the exhibition, and a jug by the South Korean silversmith Dong-hyun Kim *1978), which was likewise created especially for this show and embodies the exhibition’s theme in its timeless design. In the tension between reality and image, physical presence and projection, the space enables aesthetic experience and reflection as special categories of experience.

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue (200 pages, German/English, 39 euros). The volume includes photographs of all silver items, along with their hallmarks and masters’ marks. An extensive accompanying program offers numerous opportunities for in-depth study. 

  • Museum im Prediger
    Johannisplatz 3
    73525 Schwäbisch Gmünd
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