Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
The Apples of the Hesperides candelabrum
A large silver-gilt six-light candelabrum cast and chased as an apple tree encircled by a serpent which eats from a bowl held up by the three female figures; the branches entwined and cast with foliage and birds; the lower section is fitted with a further six branches, cast with acanthus and lotus leaves, around a central stem where three seated figures sit playing musical instruments, on a triangular base with incurved sides, and paired lion paw and acanthus feet.
This candelabrum and its pair (with the figures of Mercury and the infant Bacchus) were the largest and most magnificent candelabra in George IV's splendid Grand Service of banqueting plate. The sculptural group around the stem depicts an episode from the last of the Twelve Labours of Hercules: the serpent Ladon guards the golden apples of the Hesperides which are tended by three daughters of Erebus and Night.
The stems and the upper branches were added by Rundells in 1816/7 to a pair of smaller centrepieces also made by Paul Storr (for Rundells) about seven years earlier. The base and lower branches, described as 'a very large and superb Ornament for the Centre of the Table', were supplied by Rundells to George IV and invoiced in June 1811 for the huge sum of £2,017 16s. The figures of piping fauns and panthers were almost certainly modelled by the sculptor William Theed and show a surprising naturalism which anticipates silver of the Victorian period. The centre was originally occupied with '3 dancing nymphs' and a basket for flowers.
The enrichment of the candelabrum in 1816/7, involving the stems and everything above the level of the lower candle branches was made at a total cost of £1,365. The invoice describes '2 elegant richly chased Candelabra to fit occasionally the gilt Tripod Stands with the piping Fauns, composed from designs made by FLAXMAN on the subject of Mercury presenting Bacchus to the Nymphs, the other the Serpent guarding the Tree of Hesperides with elegant falling Branches and Ornamental devices'.
John Flaxman began designing plate for Rundells around 1805 and continued until his death over twenty years later. Because Flaxman was rarely concerned with functional components the candle branches are omitted from the design; his figure groups would have been modelled by either William Theed or Edward Hodges Baily, a former pupil of Flaxman who joined Rundells in 1815. Rundells' artists made use of both Renaissance and classical sources. the form of the candelabra recalls the richly sculptural bronze tripods made in Venice during the sixteenth century. Likewise the piping fauns at the angles resemble bronze statuettes such as the 'Pan listening to Echo' traditionally attributed to Riccio, in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. A candelabrum in the collection of the Goldsmiths' Company, dating to 1821/2, has an identical stem and upper tier to this piece.
Text adapted from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London, 2002
William Theed (1764-1817) (modeller)
Rundell Bridge & Rundell (retailer/supplier)
England (place of production)