In addition to its rare Stuart royal furniture, Knole is famous for its remarkable collection of silver.
One of the highlights is a silver table, which is en suite with a pier-glass and two torchères or candlestands. A surviving bill reveals that the table was made in England in 1680 by the prestigious Anglo-Dutch cabinetmaker Gerrit Jensen for Frances Cranfield, Countess of Dorset (1622–87). It bears the London hallmark for 1680–1 and the maker’s mark T. L. (probably Thomas Littleton). It is made from a wooden core encased in thin sheet silver, which has been chased, or worked from the front, to create a lavish decorative scheme which includes fruit, foliage and amorini or putti. The central oval panel of decoration portrays a musical contest between the Classical gods Pan and Apollo.
The monogram on each corner of the table is unclear, and could be either FCHP (for Frances Cranfield and her second husband Henry Powle) or FCD (for Frances Cranfield, Countess of Dorset). The candlestands and mirror are covered in similar chased decoration and date to around 1676. The candlestands are marked for London, but the makers of these and the mirror remain unknown.
A statement of wealth
The acquisition of silver furniture was a clear statement of wealth, taste and status in England during the second half of the 17th century. Silver was greatly valued for its malleability and strength, which made it easy to work, and the beauty of its reflective surface, which was usually designed to be seen by candlelight. It was also extremely expensive, due to the value of the metal itself. The fashion for extravagant silver furniture came to England from France, where Louis XIV of France lined the royal apartments at Versailles with silver tables and torchères.
Charles II was greatly influenced by the art and furnishings of Versailles when he was exiled to France, and silver furniture was made in England from around 1660 until around 1710. Very few examples survive today. All of the pieces from Versailles were melted down towards the end of the 17th century to pay for France’s military campaigns. Apart from the set at Knole only two other sets survive in England today, one made for Charles II and the other for William III, both of which are in the Royal Collection. When Frances Cranfield died in 1687, her personal estate, including her silver furniture, passed to Charles Sackville, 6th Earl. The silver furniture has long been one of Knole’s greatest treasures and has been on display in the King’s Room since 1706.