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A set of silver-gilt plates; the reeded rim cast with fruiting vines and scallop shells. The plate is engraved with the Royal coat of arms, with supporters, mantling and coronet.

George IV's spectacular silver-gilt dining service and buffet

Philip Rundell (1746-1827)

The Shield of Achilles 1821

Silver gilt | 90.5 x 90.5 x 10.0 cm (whole object) | RCIN 51266

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Many of the pieces in the Grand Service were not intended for dining but rather for decorative display as part of the buffet. Traditionally a buffet was intended as a means of impressing guests with the wealth and power of the monarch. In 1517 the Venetian Ambassador to the court of Henry VIII described seeing a 'buffet 30 feet in length, 20 feet high, with silver vases and vases of gold, worth vast treasure, none of which was touched'.

George IV created extraordinarily lavish buffets using the Grand Service. Among the pieces he ordered was this Shield of Achilles – an enormous piece of silver gilt, 90cm in diameter and cast with Apollo in his chariot riding forth from the centre. It was prominently displayed on the buffet at his coronation banquet in 1821, a tradition that was continued by later monarchs.

Today, the Ballroom at Buckingham Palace is decorated with two large buffets of silver gilt from the Grand Service during State Banquets. On display are huge dishes like this one decorated with biblical or mythological scenes, as well as monumental flasks, jewelled cups, ivory tankards, silver-gilt bowls and dishes.