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Culture Minister defers export of an outstanding Dutch silver ewer and basin by Christian van Vianen

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on the only known surviving silver ewer and basin by Christian van Vianen.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

This provides a last chance to raise the money to keep these precious items in the United Kingdom. 

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by Arts Council England. The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the ewer and basin were of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance for the study of the history of European decorative arts and seventeenth century silversmithing, in particular the work of Christian van Vianen - one of the leading masters of the period who worked for both Charles I and Charles II.

Both Christian van Vianen (c. 1600/1605-1667) and his father Adam van Vianen (1568-1627) possessed extraordinary technical ability. The ewer and basin are each raised from a single sheet of silver, a tremendous feat when such pieces were commonly constructed in sections combining parts that had been separately cast and raised. Few ewers and basins survive as a pair, and this is the only known surviving example by Christian van Vianen. The lack of works by the Van Vianens represents a significant gap in the UK’s national public collections.

The ewer and basin are superb examples of a rare moment in the history of art when a branch of decorative arts developed a striking and innovative style. The auricular style - so called by modern art historians because it was thought to resemble the fleshy curves of a human ear - was pioneered by the Van Vianens. They came from an established family of Utrecht goldsmiths and were famed for their innovative pieces which explored the possibilities of rendering the liquid properties of metal in sculptural form.

The two identifiable coats of arms preserved on the ewer and basin provide rare evidence for the status and occupation of the original owners, as well as an indication of the esteem in which works by the Van Vianen goldsmiths were held by foreign collectors. The later arms are those of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), a collector genuinely interested in art and science, who served as President of the Society of Arts in 1816 and President of the Royal Society from 1830 to 1838.

Philippa Glanville, Reviewing Committee member, said: “The ewer and basin are stunning objects that were made with extraordinary technical skill. The influence of the Van Vianens’ works on their contemporaries and future generations of silversmiths are important elements in the study of European decorative arts.”

The decision on the export licence application for the ewer and basin will be deferred for a period ending on 5 November 2012 inclusive. This period may be extended until 5 March 2013 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds is expressed with a view to making an offer to purchase the ewer and basin at the recommended price of £7,550,000 (plus VAT).

For media information contact:

Sam Gough, Media Relations Officer, Arts Council England
Tel: 020 7973 5189 or 07872 416679

Notes to Editors

  1. An image is available at the DCMS Flickr photostream.
  2. Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the ewer and basin should contact:

The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Arts Council England
Great Peter Street
Tel: 020 7973 5259

  1. Anyone interested in making a matching offer and who requires further information about the ewer and basin from the Champion should contact The Secretary to the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest at the above address.
  2. For enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) please contact the Enquiries team on or 0845 300 6200.
  3. The details of the ewer and basin are:

A silver ewer and basin, the ewer 25.4 cm high; the basin 53.3 x 43 cm; their combined weight, 85 oz. Both ewer and basin marked with the maker’s mark of Christian van Vianen of Utrecht (c. 1600 / 1605 - 1667), and both pieces bearing the Utrecht assay office date mark for 1632.

Johan van der Haer (1573-1646) and Maria van Kinschot (1589-1648) and thence by descent through Johan van der Haer the younger and his descendants. The tax mark shows the ewer and basin remained in the Dutch provinces until 1795 at the earliest; Prince Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773 - 1843): sold at Christie’s, 22 June 1843, lot 78; Sir George Murray: sold at Christie’s, 24 July, 1891, lot 55;The Marquess of Sligo; The Countess of Rosebery: sold at Sotheby’s, London, 2 June, 1977, lot 186 - listed as among ‘Various Properties’; British Railways Pension Fund; His Excellency Mohammed Mahdi Al Tajir.
6. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by Arts Council England, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair matching price.
7. Arts Council England (ACE) champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. It supports a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries - from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2011 and 2015, ACE will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

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Updates to this page

Published 6 July 2012