Amgueddfa Blog

In the last post I wrote about some of the fascinating objects held in the display case in the Clore Discovery Centre at National Museum Cardiff. Today I’m going to focus on another object with a rich history.

One of the most popular objects in the display is the curious nineteenth-century Meissen figurine Monkey Orchestra Pianist, produced in paste porcelain and painted in enamels. A visual inspection of this monkey reveals he is costumed as a courtier. He is caught in the moment of looking over his shoulder at the viewer, sitting on another monkey while playing the harpsicord. Even as a nineteenth-century reproduction, Monkey Orchestra Pianist delightfully captures movement as if in suspended animation that can thrill the viewer.

Close scrutiny of Monkey Orchestra Pianist can help to get a sense of the period in which the original version of this ceramic was produced. It is a reproduction of the hard-paste Meissen porcelain Figure Group of Two Monkeys, produced in 1753 by the German Meissen modeller Johann Joachim Käendler (1706-1775).

During the eighteenth century, porcelain was one of the most prized materials in the world. Developed in China around 2,000 years ago, by the early years of the eighteenth century trade in porcelain wares to Europe was thriving. However, the method for making porcelain remained a secret to Europeans until the German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) discovered its formula. As a result, the King of Poland, Augustus the Strong (1670-18), established the Meissen factory in 1710 to produce decorative wares. Meissen porcelain figures could be satirical, mythological or allegorical, and were designed to convey information about their owners – a level of intellect perhaps or even their sense of humour.

Observing the absurd facial expression, posture, actions and brilliantly coloured frills of Monkey Orchestra Pianist’s sitting monkey also conveys clues as to the more entertaining aspect of eighteenth-century life and its desire to consume visual spectacles of every sort. Indeed, the Figure Group of Two Monkeys (of which Monkey Orchestra Pianist is a replica) belongs to Käendler’s fantastical ‘Monkey Orchestra’ or ‘Affenkapelle des Grafen Brühl – The Monkey Orchestra’, created in 1753. This band consists of 21 monkey musicians, the male figures depicted as musicians, the female ones as singers, thus wittily holding up a mirror to courtly society.

Apparently, Augustus the Strong commissioned these decorative caricatures after a guest at one his banquets said that his orchestra played like performing monkeys! Monkey Orchestra Pianist’s dressy green trousers, purple jacket and long wig is suggestive of the fact Käendler took inspiration from the drawings made by the French artist Christophe Huet (1700-1759). In the 1700s, a taste in France for depictions of monkeys mimicking human activities led to the development of a genre known as ‘singerie’ – from the French word ‘singe’ (monkey). Huet published the Livre de Singeries (Book of Monkeys) and was responsible for the mural decoration of the Singerie Rooms at the Château de Chantilly in the 1730s. In his paintings for the Singerie Rooms, Huet’s costumed monkeys act as ‘surrogates’ for the chateau’s residents, shown singing, dancing and even sledding.

Again, these objects are just a small fraction of National Museum Cardiff’s wonderful collection of ceramics to look out for, so please come and explore!

In recognition of this Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales will be running a series of monthly blogs, each one covering a different chemical element and its significance to Wales. Look out for these throughout the year on our website.

To start off our series of blogs, for January we have silver.

Silver (chemical symbol – Ag), atomic number 47, is one of the original seven metals of alchemy and was represented by the symbol of a crescent moon. Silver is a precious metal, but it has never been as valuable as gold.

In Wales, silver has played an important role in the history of Wales, but this is often forgotten. In the northernmost part of Ceredigion (the old county of Cardiganshire) near to the village of Goginan lie a number of disused mines which were some of the richest silver producers in the history of the British Isles. The Romans almost certainly had a part to play in the discovery of the metal-rich mineral veins, but it was Queen Elizabeth I who oversaw their development as silver mines.

It is reported that the first rich discovery of silver was made at Cwmsymlog (sometimes written as Cum sum luck in historical records) mine in 1583 by Thomas Smythe, Chief Customs Officer for the Port of London. It is much more likely that it was discovered by Ulrich Frosse, a German mining engineer experienced in silver mining who visited the mine at about the same time and advised Smythe. During the reign of Elizabeth I it is estimated that 4 tons of silver was produced from the Cardiganshire mines.

King James I and King Charles I both made handsome profits from the mines (producing 7 and 100 tons of silver respectively), so much so that in 1638 Charles I decided to establish a mint nearby at Aberystwyth Castle. Its success ultimately led to its destruction by Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War in 1646.

Amgueddfa Cymru holds examples of the many silver coins minted at Aberystwyth. Their characteristic feature is the three feathers on both sides of the coin. The addition of a small open book at the top signifies that the silver was produced by Thomas Bushell from the Cardiganshire mines on behalf of the Company of Mines Royal.

Maps and mine plans produced to market the silver mines to investors are some of the earliest to have been made in Britain. The Library at AC-NMW holds several versions of William Waller’s maps produced for the Company of Mine Adventurers in 1693 and 1704 as well as Sir John Pettus’ Fodinae Regales published in 1670.

One of the mines, Bwlch-yr-eskir-hir [Esgair Hir], was much hyped as the Welsh Potosi and from the silver was produced a silver ewer inscribed ‘The Mines of Bwlch-yr-Eskir-hir’, c.1692. The mine was, however, a failure. The quantity of silver produced never lived up to expectations, but this was more to do with the geology than mining methods. It is perhaps better known as the site involved in a legal case against the Crown’s control over precious metals. The case, brought by the landowner Sir Carbery Pryse in 1693, ended the tyranny of the Mines Royal.

Productive silver mining continued in north Cardiganshire, firstly, under the Company of Mine Adventurers and then through the Industrial Revolution by a number of private companies. Total silver production within this part of Wales exceeded 150 tons of silver metal.

Remarkably, it took until the 1980s for geologists to identify the mineral responsible for the high concentrations of silver in the small area of Wales. It is tetrahedrite – a copper, zinc, iron, antimony sulphide mineral - within which silver can replace some of the copper, zinc and iron. At Esgair Hir mine tetrahedrite has been recorded as containing up to 18 wt. % silver. Important ore specimens used during the identification of this mineral are preserved in our geological collections at the Museum.

Naturally occurring silver metal – known as native silver – does not occur in visible concentrations in any of the Welsh mines, but the Museum holds some of the world’s finest examples in its mineral collection. The specimens, from the Kongsberg mine in Norway, are exceptional in their quality and were acquired during the 1980s as part of the R. J. King collection.

I hope you all had a lovely break over Christmas and New Year. Thank you to everyone who has sent weather data in. I'm enjoying hearing how your plants are doing and what the weather is like where you are! Remember, there are schools taking part from all over the UK. You can use the website to compare your results with schools in other countries. In the report at the end of the project we will compare the weather and flowering dates for Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Which country do you think will be warmer and which do you think will have the most rain?

Lots of schools have reported that their bulbs have started to grow. Can you tell which of the plants are daffodil and which are crocus? The pictures on the right might help you to identify your plants. The pictures show plants on the same day, in the same park, but growing in different places. Some of the plants have grown less than others. Why do you think this is? The descriptions with the photos might help you to think of reasons why the plants are developing differently.

I look forward to your next data entries and comments. Remember, you can share photos by email and over Twitter.

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies,

Professor Plant

 

Your Comments

Weather

Thank you for your weather updates Bulb Buddies.

Ysbyty Ifan: Wythnos gyntaf yn ol yn yr ysgol ac mae'n eithaf braf. Pawb yn hapus ar ol chwarae efo teganau newydd Sion Corn!

Ysgol Beulah: Blwyddyn newydd dda! Rydyn ni wedi cael wythnos sych.

Kirkby La Thorpe Cof E Primary Academy: colder week, quite dull and damp atmosphere (coats on at playtime!) but very little rain , nearly snow like on Wednesday as attempted to rain , small brief flurry in the cold wind. ground still moist , a few weeds but no flowers emerging yet! although daffodils available in shops.

Ochiltree Primary School: We have had a wet week this week.

Darran Park Primary: The temperature is lower this week and there hasn't been so much rain.

Hudson Road Primary School: It has been so cold this week and very windy

Hudson Road Primary School: It has rained this week everyday

 

Project

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda – Happy New Year to you all Bulb Buddies.

Ysgol Bro Pedr: Blwyddyn Newydd Dda - Happy New Year

Shirenewton Primary School: Nadolig Llawen a blwyddyn Newydd dda

Ysbyty Ifan: Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda a diolch yn fawr am y cerdyn.

 

Plants

Thank you for the updates on your plants Bulb Buddies. I’m excited to hear that lots of plants have started to grow.

Carnbroe Primary School: Happy New Year Professor Plant we have been checking our bulbs this week and they look well but no flowers. We have had not much rain and it is been mild.

Ysgol Casmael: Some of our bulbs have shoots starting to peep through.

Ysgol Nantymoel: Some of our plants are starting to grow. Please help we have made a mistake with our records before Christmas and still can't correct them.

Dalreoch Primary School: Our bulbs in the ground have started to show through. They are about 3cm tall.

Hendredenny Park Primary: Some bulbs are starting to show shoots

Steelstown Primary School: This week all of the bulbs have started to grow. Everyone is super excited and can't wait until April when all of them should be grown!

Steelstown Primary School: When we are taking the temperature and rainfall we have noticed that the bulbs are starting to grow it is very exciting. We cannot wait until they have fully grown into flowers

St Julian's Primary School: Lots of daffodils have started to grow now.

 

 

 

A glimpse at the large display case situated to far-left hand side of the Clore Discovery Centre in National Museum Cardiff reveals a visual array of different types of modern and historic decorative plates, teapots, as well as figurines. These are both taxidermy and ceramic objects, some brightly glazed and others radiating the luminescence of the stone they were crafted from. The eye can rest upon, or circle around, such shapes as a smoothly curved oxen made from Chinese jade, an earthenware Staffordshire leopard and even a taxidermy echidna, an animal that belongs to the Monotreme order of egg-laying mammals.

Elsewhere in the cabinet, the eye can be drawn to ceramic animals like the brightly marked Figure of a Leopard, produced between 1865 and 1875 by the renowned Wedgwood pottery factory. As its attractive form indicates, Wedgwood’s animal figures were popular by the 1850s and affordable to a public who could display them as they were modelled in a way that allowed them to sit on a mantel piece.

Earlier examples of Wedgwood’s engagement with animal motifs can also be viewed in the Teapot with Tiger Print, produced between 1812 and 1815, and John Walton’s Lamb-Figure Group, made between 1820 and 1830. This figure group, of an ewe and her lamb sitting amongst a mound of foliage called a bocage, has a purpose that can be grasped by viewing its flat back and hollowed-out tree trunk. This physical shape would have enabled it to have been used as a spill vase – that could take a flame from fire to a light – and which would normally sit on a narrow ledge.

Additionally, the Clore Discovery Centre holds handling drawers containing teapots, as well as ceramic fragments, such as roughly-textured earthenware, accompanied by bilingual guide books to aid sensory interpretation. These objects are just a small fraction of National Museum Cardiff’s wonderful collection of ceramics to look out for during a visit so please come and explore!

The National Waterfront Museum is one of the partners in the Angelshark Project, which aims to gather information, both current and historic, about this protected species, one of the rarest sharks in the world. Prior to a roadshow at the Museum on 15 and 16 February, Jake Davies, from the Zoological Society of London, shares his work.

Angels of Wales - How can you help?

Angel Shark Project: Wales is a pioneering new project with an aim to better understand and safeguard the Angelshark (Squatina squatina) in Wales through fisher-participation, heritage and citizen-science.

We are working with Amgueddfa Cymru and alongside fishers and coastal communities in Wales to better understand the Angelshark through gathering historic and current information about its life off the Welsh coast.

Angelsharks are large, flat-bodied sharks can reach 2.4m in length. Also known as monkfish or angel fish, they are sometimes mistaken for a ray or misrecorded as anglerfish. Angelsharks feed on a range of fish, crustaceans and molluscs and have an important role in maintaining a balanced marine ecosystem.

They are not threatening to humans, living mainly on sand or mud at the bottom of the sea, lying in wait to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Angelsharks are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

It is illegal to intentionally disturb, target, injure or kill Angelsharks within 12 nautical miles of Welsh and English coastlines.

The four major areas of the Angelshark Project are:

  1. Understand status and ecology of Angelsharks in Wales
  2. Fishers are stewards of Angelshark conservation
  3. Communities help unlock Angelshark heritage to share across the generations.
  4. Develop Wales’s Angelshark Action Plan to identify key steps to secure their future

As part of the historical research, Angel Shark Project: Wales will be running the Angelshark History Roadshow from January to March 2019 in five of the project’s focal regions: North Anglesey, the Llŷn Peninsula, Porthmadog to Aberarth, Fishguard to Milford Haven and Swansea to Porthcawl (though we also welcome information from across Wales). The free events provide the opportunity to bring your memories, photos or stories of Angelsharks (or any other interesting shark, skate or ray species off the Welsh Coast) and see how they help build our understanding of Wales’s rich maritime landscape. The roadshows will also be a good opportunity to meet the team and find out more about the project. The roadshow dates are:

Date Venue Location
25 & 26 Jan Llŷn Maritime museum Nefyn
11 & 12 Feb Milford Heritage Museum Milford Haven
15 & 16 Feb National Waterfront Museum Swansea
1 & 2 Mar The National Library of Wales Aberystwyth
4 & 5 March Sea Cadets Holyhead

Following the roadshows, we will be recruiting and training citizen scientists to continue the historical research by scouring local libraries, archives, historic magazines and museums. Information captured through this research will be digitalised and displayed in collaboration with Peoples Collection Wales and provided to the next generation via a History of Angels iBook.

Those who are interested in being part of the project but unable to attend the roadshows and would like to share memories or photographs of Angelsharks can get in touch at angelsharks@zsl.org to help save one of the rarest sharks in the world. You can report personal sightings and accidental captures of Angelsharks to the sightings webpage http://angelsharknetwork.com/#map or email angelsharks@zsl.org.

Angel Shark Project: Wales is led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW), funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Welsh Government.

Angel Shark Project: Wales (PDF)