A glittering banquet at Windsor Castle

Release date: 
Monday, 19 July 2004

The magnificent banquet given by Queen Victoria for Emperor Nicholas I of Russia has inspired a dazzling new display at Windsor Castle, where an important group of silver-gilt from the Grand Service in the Royal Collection goes on show to the public for the first time.  Undoubtedly the finest and most spectacular group of silver-gilt dining plate in existence, the Service was originally commissioned by Queen Victoria's flamboyant uncle, George IV.  For 200 years the Service has been used by successive monarchs for official entertaining and State Banquets, and is still in use for such occasions today.  While many individual pieces have been exhibited over the years, the Grand Service has never before been on public display in such quantity.  

From 16 July to 12 September 2004 the dining plate will be arranged on the 50-ft. banquet table in the Castle's Waterloo Chamber, where the young Queen Victoria hosted a dinner for the Russian Emperor on his visit to England in June 1844.  The Queen was given only two days' notice of the Emperor's arrival, the first visit of a ruling Tsar for 30 years. The 63 guests, who included the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, sat down to 53 different dishes served from the Grand Service. The Queen commissioned the artist Joseph Nash to record the occasion and presented a copy of the painting to the Emperor before his departure.

Tureens in the form of giant shells supported by sea creatures, and bottle coolers surmounted by Venus rising from the waves are among the 50 highly elaborate pieces on show. Dominating the display are the massive Mercury and Bacchus candelabra by the great neoclassical designer John Flaxman and the six-ft., 12-light St George and Dragon candelabrum, which weighs over 170 lbs.  The banquet table will be decorated with flowers and fruit, evoking the 19th-century taste for opulent entertaining.

Most of the Grand Service was supplied to George IV by royal goldsmiths and jewellers Rundell, Bridge & Rundell between 1804 and 1830.  The firm used the leading artists of the day, such as John Flaxman and Thomas Stothard, to supply designs and models, and sub-contracted commissions to the finest goldsmiths, including Paul Storr and Benjamin Smith.  John Bridge and his partner Philip Rundell were known as 'Oil' and 'Vinegar', the former's suave manners contrasting with the latter's often outrageous rudeness.

Notes to Editors

1. Silver-gilt is the term used for solid silver covered with a thin layer of gilding. 

2. Windsor Castle is open daily. As the Castle is a working royal palace, opening arrangements may change at short notice.   It is advisable to check before planning a visit.  Details of admission and tickets are available fromwww.royal.gov.uk or 020 7766 7304.

Further press information is available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, telephone: 020-7839 1377, e-mail:press@royalcollection.org.uk