popta silverware

the poptaschat, antique yet trending

The Historische Tentoonstelling (Historical Exhibition), that brought together thousands of Frisian antiquities and curiosities, only ran for several weeks during the summer of 1877, yet this temporary museum in Leeuwarden left an indelible impression. Almost 1,500 contributors responded to theFrisian Society for History and Culture’s public call for any Frisian objects of interest that could be included in the exhibition. There were so many unusual and beautiful objects that people couldn’t stop talking about them. The interest for antiquities and curiosities had been awoken and people craved their own Fries Museum…

One year later, Dr Coronel from Leeuwarden wrote a book recalling his most vivid memories of this exhibition. He was so enthusiastic about a set of silver objects that he gave this set a new name: thePoptaschat (‘Popta Treasure’). This silver treasure consists of two dishes with Dr Henricus Popta´s coat of arms, a jug, two candelabras and a snuffer, all made around 1670. Coronel lavishes praise on the magnificent silverwork and expresses his regret at not knowing who made this ‘work of art’. He identified the representation on the jug and the large matching dish as illustrations of Ovid’sMetamorphoses, inspired by prints by the sixteenth-century draughtsman and engraver Hendrick Goltzius.

Metamorphoses or Books of Transformations is a narrative poem chronicling the history of the world according to Classical Mythology. The never-ending battle between mankind and the gods was a source of exciting and inspiring stories. Written at the beginning of the Christian era, it has inspired painters and writers since the Middle Ages. It was one of the most important exercise books at the so-called Latin schools, the equivalent of today’s grammar schools. All pupils attending the Latin school in Friesland spent hours every day learning how to read, write and translate Latin, and they even had to speak it among themselves. At the time it was comparable in usage to English today, and well-educated people throughout Europe spoke and wrote to each other in Latin.

Two Leeuwaarden silversmiths – Rintje Jans and Nicolaas Mensma – made the Poptaschat. They knew only too well what their clients wanted when they ordered silver objects, namely ostentatious display pieces. Silver tableware had to testify to the wealth of its owner and through its decorations or shapes, to his familiarity with the Classics. Anyone with even a smidgeon of culture would recognise these images as coming from Ovid’s stories.

Rintje Jans, the silversmith who made the jug and the smaller dish, did not only source his decorations from tried and trusted examples from antiquity, but was also inspired by two large books that had just been printed, with illustrations showing all the decorations on the interior and exterior of the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, the brand new Amsterdam City Hall. This shows that this silversmith was up-to-date and well informed about the world around him. But would people in the seventeenth century also have perceived it this way?