Rare silver 16th century basin and ewer to go on display at National Museum

Fewer than a dozen Panmure ewer and basin sets made in London before 1600 survive, according to historians.

An extremely rare silver-gilt ewer and basin from the 16th century will go on display at the National Museum of Scotland after they were acquired for the nation under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.

The Panmure ewer and basin will go on permanent display from Wednesday at the museum in Edinburgh.

They have been accepted in lieu of inheritance by the UK Government from the collection of the Earls of Balhousie and allocated to the National Museums Scotland by Arts Council England and the minister for culture, Europe and international development, Christina McKelvie.

Ewers and basins were used by elite members of society for ceremonially washing hands at meals but most were melted down, making the Panmure ewer and basin particularly rare.

In 1967 the Panmure ewer and basin were exhibited in Treasures from Scottish Houses: European Decorative Arts, in what was then the Royal Scottish Museum.

It was acquired by Scottish Whig politician William Ramsay Maule, first Baron Panmure (1771-1852) the second son of the 8th Earl of Dalhousie and father of the 11th Earl of Dalhousie.

Research will be carried out to try to discover more about their maker and how they were acquired.

It is believed Elizabeth I had at least 40 sets of silver or silver-gilt ewers and basins in 1574, but today fewer than a dozen sets made in London before 1600 survive.

The elaborate piece of silverware was created in London in 1586 or 1587 by the goldsmith HC – who the museums believe was the Dutch immigrant goldsmith Harman Copleman.

It would have been used ceremonially and displayed to impress people with the owner’s wealth and status.

The ritual of washing hands with scented rosewater at a banquet was widely practised by royalty and aristocrats in the 16th century.

Dr Godfrey Evans, principal curator of European decorative arts at National Museums Scotland said: “I am delighted that this remarkable set has been acquired for Scotland under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.

“Their craftsmanship is particularly fine and the representations of lots of scaly dolphins, flying fish, snails and other weird and wonderful animals offer us a glimpse into a period when such objects demonstrated the wealth, power and sophistication of the elite.”

Ms McKelvie said: “I’m really pleased National Museums Scotland is now in possession of these beautiful Renaissance pieces for the public to enjoy.

“These are a welcome addition to its outstanding collection, obtained through the Arts Council England’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme.”

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