Description & Technical information

Richly cast and chased, the domed shaped circular bases of rococo scrolling foliage incorporating three cartouches enclosing a coat of arms and two crests, the stems in the form of kneeling blackamoors, each with detachable two-light branches, the sconces supported on the heads of female caryatids, the drip pans each engraved with two crests above esquires’ helmets and foliate mantling, the undersides with scratch weights: ’40 - 19’ and ’39 = 9’.

Weight: 4611g / 148.25oz

Date:  1739
Period:  18th century, 1600-1750
Origin:  London
Medium: silver
Dimensions: 41.2 cm (16¹/₄ inches)
Provenance: Nicholas Owen Smythe Owen (1769-1804) of Condover Hall, Shropshire, and probably then by descent to,

Reginald Cholmondeley (1826-1896), of Hodnet and Condover Hall, Shropshire

Anonymous sale, Christie’s, London, 17 June 1895, lot 60.

Literature: Notes

The design of these candelabra is very unusual, being an amalgam of patterns derived from various sources. Kneeling blackamoor figures first appeared in English silver candlesticks in the 1680s (Fig. 1), when, usually chained, they were clearly intended to represent enslaved black Africans. It was a form that proved remarkably enduring and several examples are known, dating from the end of the 17th Century to the middle of the 18th Century. That said, no other early 18th Century candelabra with kneeling slave figure stems have been recorded apart from the small silver-gilt pair, John Pero, London, 1733, from the late Princess Royal’s collection, sold at Christie’s London, in 1957.

Candlesticks of this general pattern were also made in porcelain in the late 1760s/early 1770s at the Bow and Derby factories, although for those the figures (one male, the other female) are clad in various colourfully decorated costumes.

Where ultimately the inspiration for these kneeling blackamoors sprang is at present unknown. Kneeling figures have been depicted since time immemorial, but those similar to the candlesticks under discussion seem first to have appeared in the late 17th Century: carved and painted wood examples in the manner of the Italian sculptor Andrea Brustolon (1662-1732) survive, such as the candlestand in the form of a chained African slave at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire.

Of course, it is perfectly possible that the idea for such a design was based on either actual observation or from a literary source. Africans were no strangers in London and in the finer houses it was considered something of a mark of distinction to have a black servant or page boy. The artist William Hogarth (1697-1764) places a black servant at the centre of The Toilette, the fourth in his series of 'Marriage à-la-mode' paintings.

In 1678, a less fortunate boy called Africa was advertised and the livery he wore at the time of his absconsion would have identified him as belonging to a particular household:

‘. . . by his growth seeming to be about 12 years old, he had a gray cloth Livery, the Lace mixed with black, white, and orange colors, somewhat torn, a black large Cap, a Silver Ring in one of his ears, his hair newly clipped very close, speaks some English, Dutch, and Blacks. Run away from his Master the first instant. Whoever shall secure him, and give notice to Mr. Arnold Pidgeon [a] Barber in James street, Cover-Garden, shall have 20s. Reward.’ (The London Gazette, 12-16 September 1678).

Visual reminders of black boys were a not uncommon sight in London. There were various well-known ‘Black Boy’ public houses and coffee houses and also a famous ‘Black Boy’ bookshop in Fleet Street whose proprietor between 1669 and 1693 was one Christopher Wilkinson.

In literature, the most familiar African character at the end of the 17th Century was Oroonoko, the hero of the ‘true history,’ Oroonoko: or, The Royal Slave by Mrs Aphra Behn (1640-1689). This work, one of the earliest novels in the English language, was published in 1688 and told the tragic tale of the noble slave and his love for Imoninda. At first it was not particularly successful until the Irish dramatist, Thomas Southerne (1660-1746) adapted it for the stage in 1695. The play was published the next year followed by a new edition of the novel in 1697 after which it was in print throughout the 18th Century (Fig. 2&3).

Oroonoko, the play, also continued to enjoy success. In 1741 David Garrick (1717-1779) himself made his professional debut in the piece. By 1776, when John Horatio Savigny played Oroonoko, the ‘noble savage’ appeared ‘in full court dress with the addition of a vestigial toga,’ speaking ‘with the rhetoric of ancient Roman nobility.’ (Janet Todd, ‘The History of the Royal Slave,’ introduction to a new edition of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Penguin Classics, London, 2003)

The scrolled sections of the branches (excluding the finials, sconces and drip pans) are the same model as those on a pair of silver two-light candelabra, Paul de Lamerie, London, 1748, in the Dowty Collection. These were exhibited at the Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museums in 1983, catalogue no. 15. 

The arms are those of Smythe quartering the quarterly arms of Leighton and Owen for Owen Smythe Owen of Condover Hall, Shropshire, for Nicholas Owen Smythe Owen (1769-1804), who married at All Hallows, Tottenham, on 12 July 1790, Henrietta Jemima, daughter of James Townsend (1737-1787) of Bruce Castle, Tottenham, and his wife Henrietta (nee Hare, 1745-1785). She was also the paternal aunt of the poet and collector, Chauncy Hare Townsend (Townshend) (1798-1868).

The Owen family of Condover, Shropshire, extinct in the male line, descended from Richard ap Owen, third son of Owen ap Griffith of Llunllo. Thomas Owen of Concover, the last male descendant of this line, died unmarried in 1731, leaving his sister, Letitia Owen (d. 1755), his heir. She married Richard Mytton, and had a daughter, Anna Maria (1719-1750), who was the first wife of Sir Charlton Leighton, 3rd Bt (1715-1780) of Loton. One of their children, also Anna Maria (d. 1777), inherited from her grandmother, the said Letitia Owen, the estate of Condover. This Anna Maria Mytton married Nicholas Smythe. Their eldest son was the above mentioned Nicholas Owen Smythe Owen (formerly Smythe) upon whose death without issue in 1804 Condover passed to his eldest sister’s son, Edward William Pemberton (1793-1863) who then changed his name to Edward William Smythe Owen.

Categories: Jewellery, Silver