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John Culme

Maharajah Duleep Singh’s magnificent silver centrepiece

John Culme on the subject of Uncategorized. Posted on February 20th, 2011.

garrardduleepsingh2

the large (now presumed lost) silver centrepiece made by
R. & S. Garrard & Co
for Maharajah Duleep Singh’s dining table,
shown at the International Exhibition of 1862.
‘It has been designed to record an interesting
incident in the history of his Highness’ father…
The Maharajah, riding on an elephant, is in the act
of rising from his hondah to receive from his
Turcoman attendant a horse, the possession
of which he has coveted.’
(
The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the
International Exhibition, London, 1862, p. 66)

‘Those eyes and those teeth are too beautiful,’ gushed Queen Victoria after meeting Duleep Singh (1838-1893), last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire. He had ascended the throne at 5, his father, Maharajah Ranjit Singh having died in 1839. Their Punjab territory was annexed to the British along with personal property, including the celebrated Koh-i-Noor diamond which, as a spoil of war, was handed to the Queen in 1850. The following year it was shown at the Great Exhibition but failed to impress because of its unsophisticated rose cut. In 1852 the stone was entrusted to the royal jewellers R. & S. Garrard & Co to supervise a re-cutting, emerging as a much smaller but infinitely more brilliant gem. It now forms part of the British Crown Jewels.

Although very young when he first visited London, the splendid, free-spending Duleep Singh soon became well known to the capital’s goldsmiths. In 1863 he commissioned  London & Ryder to make a gold and rock crystal bouquet-holder  with diamonds, emerald and rubies as a wedding present for Princess Alexandra of Denmark upon her marriage to the future King Edward VII. Two or three years previously he had ordered from Garrard’s a huge dining table centrepiece in silver weighing 2,000 ounces, the principal feature of which was the figure of a ceremonial elephant. This astonishing piece was shown by the firm at the International Exhibition of 1862 but was overshadowed on their stand by Queen Victoria’s much-noticed Alhambresque fountain with models of her favourite horses.

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