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Knife

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    1586 (dated)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Steel with copper inlay and gilt chiselled iron with mother-of-pearl scales

  • Credit Line:

    Salting Bequest

  • Museum number:

    M.604-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, case 11

This knife has a handle of chiselled iron, partly gilded, and decorated with mother-of-pearl scales. The blade inlaid with a copper 'V' denoting the cutler.

This knife was originally, probably part of a set of knives in a leather case. Owning fine cutlery in the 16th century was an outward sign of wealth, elegance and refinement. Mother-of-pearl was an exotic and expensive material.

It was normal practice for everyone to carry their own cutlery, especially a knife. Cutlery remained individual and personalised. The knife was the main eating implement in Europe until the middle of the 17th century. The basic form of the table knife, a single-edged blade more or less pointed, with a handle, has remained virtually the same since Antiquity, although the details of construction, shape and decoration have varied.

The survival rate also suggests that knives were not subjected to hard, repeated use. Although this knife is sharply pointed to enable it both to cut and skewer meat, fingers were used for much of the meal.

Physical description

Knife with straight-backed steel blade tapering at to a sharp point, with a cutler's mark 'V' inlaid with copper, and handle of chiselled iron, partly gilded, and with mother-of-pearl scales.

Place of Origin

France (made)

Date

1586 (dated)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Steel with copper inlay and gilt chiselled iron with mother-of-pearl scales

Marks and inscriptions

'V' inlaid with copper
Cutler's mark: unidentified

Dimensions

Length: 19.6 cm, Width: 1.5 cm, Depth: 1.3 cm

Object history note

This knife came to the Museum in the Salting Bequest of 1910 (No. 1271), a major bequest including Chinese and Japanese ceramics and metalwork and European art. George Salting was born in Australia in 1836 where his father was a wealthy sugar producer. He was a very careful collector and was known to haggle endlessly over prices. By 1874, he began lending items to the V&A, then known as the South Kensington Museum, when his collection became too large for his residence in St James’ Street. Salting died in 1909 and his collection was displayed the following year in its own gallery in the Museum.

Prior to Salting's ownership the knife had also been in the collection of Baron Frederic Spitzer (1815-1890). Spitzer was an antiquarian and dealer in Paris, originally from Vienna, whose collection was sold in 1893. This knife fetched 340 francs.

The provenance of the knife prior to Spitzer's ownership is not known.

Historical context note

This knife was originally, probably part of a set of knives in a leather case. Owning fine cutlery in the 16th century was an outward sign of wealth, elegance and refinement. Mother-of-pearl was an exotic and expensive material.

It was normal practice for everyone to carry their own cutlery, especially a knife. Cutlery remained individual and personalised. The knife was the main eating implement in Europe until the middle of the 17th century. The basic form of the table knife, a single-edged blade more or less pointed, with a handle, has remained virtually the same since Antiquity, although the details of construction, shape and decoration have varied.

The survival rate also suggests that knives were not subjected to hard, repeated use. Although this knife is sharply pointed to enable it both to cut and skewer meat, fingers were used for much of the meal.

Descriptive line

Knife with straight-backed steel blade, a cutler's mark 'V' inlaid with copper, and handle of chiselled iron, partly gilded, and with mother-of-pearl scales, France, dated 1586

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Masterpieces of Cutlery and the Art of Eating, An Exhibition organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum in conjunction with the Worshipful Company of Cutlers of London, London 1979
Coffin, Sarah D. et al, Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table 1500-2005, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Assouline, New York 2006
Catalogue Des Objets D'Art et de Haute Curiositie, Antiques, Du Moyen Age & de La Renaissance, Collection Spitzer, Paris, Monday 17 April to Wednesday 16 June 1893, Plate LV, Lot No. 2425
Trigt, Jan Van, Cutlery, From Gothic to Art Deco, Pandora, Antwerp, 2003

Materials

Steel; Iron; Mother of pearl

Techniques

Forging; Copper inlay; Gilding

Categories

Eating; Metalwork; Tableware & cutlery; Tools & Equipment

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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