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Mansion House collections
The Art Collection
Mansion House is home to The Harold Samuel Collection of Dutch and Flemish 17th century paintings and also to some fine sculptures.
The Collection is formed of 84 pieces and is perhaps the best of Dutch art in Britain. Lord Harold Samuel of Wych Cross, a wealthy property developer and entrepreneur, left it to the City of London in 1987.
The Merry Lute player
This is perhaps the best known picture in the collection. Painted between 1624-28 by Frans Hals, this lively picture is one of a group painted in the mid-1620s of life-size, half-length figures drinking or making music, and wearing fanciful or theatrical costume.
The Merry Lute Player made headline news when it was bought for Lord Samuel at a New York auction in 1963, partly for its record price but mostly because this was the first occasion on which the bidding was conducted by telephone from London.
A Young Woman Sewing, oil on panel by Nicolaes Maes (1655)
Spinning, sewing or making lace were activities traditionally associated with domestic virtue, and Maes painted a number of pictures of women silently concentrating on these chores.
In this particular example, the young woman has set her lacemaking aside to take up her sewing and she has tucked a couple of packets of pins in the moulding behind her. She sits on a low dais or 'soldertien' that raises her slightly nearer the light shed by an unseen window above her right shoulder but more importantly keeps her feet from chilling on the cold tiled floor. A map and a painting hang on the wall behind her.
Maes had trained in Rembrandt's studio in the late 1640s, painted biblical settings in his early works and subsequently specialised in small, highly refined portraits.
The idea of marble statues for the Mansion House was first raised in 1850 at a banquet for Prince Albert attended by the Royal Commissioners for The Great Exhibition. The Egyptian Hall was noted as being "very deficient in embellishment" with temporary exhibits being placed in the niches during important events. The General Purposes Committee proposed commissioning statues themed from the works of English poets which were recommended to the Court of Common Council. After a comprehensive selection process and visits to the artists' workshops all the statues were put in place in 1863. Each one weighs in the region of three quarters of a ton and is seven feet tall.
The Plate Collection
The Mansion House is home to one of the largest and finest gold and silver plate collections in the world.
It houses pieces given as gifts or acquired by the Mayoralty and the City of London Corporation. The collection is in constant use for ceremonial occasions, as ornament and as table decoration throughout the house for events and is composed by many interesting items: flagons and rosewater dishes, candelabra, cups, cigarette boxes, wine labels, cutlery, bowls and vases.
One object, a speech timer given in 1975 by a Lord Mayor who disliked long speeches, has three egg timers that provide a visual guide to ensure the speaker knows when they have spoken for too long. On one of three silver centrepieces made in 1880 there is a figure representing navigation, with a little pillar by her side on top of which there is a working compass! Another interesting item is Queen Victoria's knife and fork, originally given to the young Queen Victoria to eat her dessert at the coronation banquet in 1838 at the Guildhall. The Queen was presented with them at the end of the meal and they remained at Buckingham Palace until Queen Mary returned them to the Lord Mayor in 1936.
Here is a flavour of some of the star items
The Sword and Mace are the symbols of the Lord Mayor and the City of London Corporation’s authority granted by the monarch and parliament and are carried by the Swordbearer and Sergeant At Arms for ceremonial events. The Mace was made in 1735 by John White of London in silver gilt. It is beautifully crafted, surmounted by a royal crown with orb and cross under which are the royal arms and cipher of George the third. The Shaft is of baluster form with knops elaborately decorated in relief. The State sword originates from the mid-seventeenth century, its pommel is wrought with representations of Justice and Fame and the sheath is of red velvet adorned with Royal emblems and the City arms. There are a further four swords, the Pearl sword, the Mourning Sword, the Old Bailey Sword and the Mansion House Justice Room Sword!
The Pearl Sword was used according to legend, by Elizabeth I at the opening of first Royal Exchange in 1571. The scabbard contains over two thousand five hundred pearls sewn on both sides. The sword is now used when the reigning Sovereign comes in state to the City of London. The Lord Mayor offers the sword to the Sovereign who touches it. The Lord Mayor then bears the sword aloft in front of the Monarch. This ceremony used to take place at one of the City boundaries but now takes place at the location the Monarch is visiting.
The Fire Cup is the only example of City of London plate surviving the Great Fire of London of 1666 and is so named after its recovery from the flames at Guildhall. Originally this was a covered silver bowl given in 1580 by Robert Christopher a member of the Clothworkers Company but was reworked according to the fashion of the time into its present form in 1662.
The Collar of Esses was bequeathed by Sir John Aleyn a Mercer and Lord Mayor in 1535. It is suggested that the collar was part of Sir Thomas More's regalia, forfeited to the crown on his execution. The gold portcullis bears a striking resemblance to the one painted by Hans Holbein on display at the Frick Gallery in New York. The roses are enamel and the garter knots, like the 'Esses' are made in solid gold. The Diamond badge or Jewel features a fine cameo of the City arms surrounded by the city motto within a garter of gold, blue enamel and diamonds. The encircling gold wreath is adorned with diamond set roses, shamrocks and thistles. The Lord Mayor wears a replica chain and badge for daily events.