The Making of a Roman Silver Cup

The Making of a Roman Silver Cup


This ancient Roman cup is an
extraordinary example of silversmithing. One of a pair, it was created
in the first century A.D. and dedicated to Mercury at
a sanctuary in northern France. It is one of the most exquisite
pieces of Roman silver to survive. Ancient craftsmen employed
a variety of sophisticated techniques to produce the multiple
components of the cup, with its smooth inner liner, ornate outer shell, and cast handles and foot. Many of these techniques are still used by silversmiths today. The smooth inner liner was formed from a flat disk of silver. The silversmith began by hammering the center of the disk to
create a rounded bottom. Then, rotating the disk over
an anvil or wooden form, he hammered outward from the
center to raise the sides. Repeated hammering hardened the silver, making it brittle and
difficult to work. To make it more pliable, the silver was heated and then
submerged in water to cool. This process, called annealing,
was repeated periodically as the silversmith raised the liner. Once the liner reached
its full height, it was turned on a wheel
to smooth the surface and refine the shape. The rim was rolled outward
to facilitate later assembly. X-rays of this cup reveal
that an inscription was punched into the
bottom of the liner, recording its weight. Never intended to be seen
outside the workshop, this inscription indicates careful
control of the valuable silver. The ornate outer shell was also
raised from a disk of silver, but was made slightly larger and with
a flatter bottom than the inner liner. The complex scenes
on the outer shell probably began as a drawing
and a full-scale model in wax, clay, or plaster. The silversmith fashioned
the three-dimensional decoration by first working from inside,
[hammer taps] raising and shaping the
general forms of the figures with a rounded tool. This process is called repoussé– French for “pushed out.” [hammer taps] To define the figures more clearly, the silversmith then worked
from the outside of the shell. By working back and forth
between the interior and the exterior, the craftsman raised the scenes in relief and added details. [light hammering] Certain elements of the decoration
in especially high relief were fashioned separately
and attached as appliqués. The handles and foot were
also created separately, perhaps by other craftsmen in the workshop. Each handle was assembled from
three parts cast individually using the indirect lost-wax process, which allowed multiple components to be made from a single prototype. From the prototype, a reusable master mold was produced for each part. Repeatedly filling the
master mold with molten wax, the craftsman made multiple
identical casting models. These were encased in
clay and then fired, which melted out the wax
[fire roars] and left a hollow casting mold
into which silver could be poured. After the silver cooled,
the mold was broken open, and the cast components
were removed, separated, cleaned, and detailed. Once all the components were
ready, the cup was assembled. The craftsman inserted the
inner liner into the outer shell, interlocking their rims
to form a smooth lip. Then the handles and foot
were soldered to the body. This X-ray shows how
the liner is suspended inside the outer shell, and how
all of the components fit together. Finally, a mixture of powdered
gold and liquid mercury– called amalgam–was selectively applied to the silver decoration. Heated, the mercury evaporated,
[fire roars] leaving a thin coat of gold
over the silver, accentuating elements of the design. The gilt cup was then
burnished to a brilliant shine. Now almost two thousand years old, the cup remains a testament
to the expert craftsmanship of ancient artisans.

22 Comments

  1. A very well done animation, and carefully researched.  Thank you for showing the firescale oxidation after the silver is poured– cleanup is a HUGE part of metalsmithing.

  2. Excellently done, very clear exposition and graphics. Kudos to those who made this film (and to the original artisans two millennia ago), and thank you.

  3. Un verdadero trabajo magistral.Parece imposible tanta técnica en la antiguedad. Aún hoy sería complicado de hacer.

  4. The Making of a Roman Silver Cup
    Ancient Roman silversmiths developed their craft to the highest levels of refinement and beauty. Applying fire and basic tools to the shaping of precious metals, many of their sophisticated techniques are still used today. This video illustrates the making of a stunning silver cup that has survived from the 1st century, A.D.

    This cup is on view in the Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville exhibition at the Getty Villa, November 19, 2014 to August 17, 2015: http://bit.ly/13Oxl7s

    #Art   #Museum   #MakingArt  

  5. It was said these were probably commissioned by its owners. As the cups tell a story and not just a simple decoration.

    Great Stuff

  6. Ancient Roman silversmiths developed their craft to the highest levels of refinement and beauty. Applying fire and basic tools to the shaping of precious metals, many of their sophisticated techniques are still used today. This video illustrates the making of a stunning silver cup that has survived from the first century, A.D. 
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrMVA8F-fiY#action=share

    This cup is on view at the Getty Villa until August 17, 2015 as part of the exhibition "Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville": http://bit.ly/13Oxl7s 

    #Art   #Museum  

  7. This is so bananas! It's awesome to see an example of artisans really pushing the limits of their craft, from so long ago.

  8. if you want to anneal metal, definatly not cool it in water, it would have the opposite effect. let it cool as slowly as possible.

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