All that glitters is definitely gold at the new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, London. One stunning piece which keeps drawing you back is the golden head of a tiger which stares out at you with its rock crystal eyes Tipu Sultan, an Indian rule, said that it was ‘better to live a single day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep’ and used the tiger as a symbol of his power, decorating his throne with gold heads and as a motif on his guards’ uniforms. This magnificent beast dates from the late 18th century and although the throne that he was part of was broken up, his head survived and was given to William lV so now part of the Queen’s Collection in Windsor.
This new exhibition focuses on gold, its symbolism and beauty from the bronze age through to 20th century, displaying 50 items to tell gold’s story.
One of the other really striking pieces is a crown from Ecuador, dating back to pre-Columbian times (1000-1400) and is made of beaten sheets of gold. As you walk past the stripes vibrate and shine, I can just imagine the delight of those who found this precious object near Cuenca in 1854.
A more recent creation is the Coronation Girdle made in 1936 for the coronation of George VI (our Queen’s father), is made of gold cloth with gold thread, a silk lining and a gold (of course!) buckle. This girdle is a sword belt as the sword is one of the regalia used in the coronation ceremony.
The oldest and one of the loveliest gold pieces in the exhibition is the Rillaton Cup dating way back to 1700-1500 BC showing that Bronze Age people also knew about fine gold work. The ridges were probably made using antlers so the delicacy is astonishing. It is amazing that it has survived at all and is a testament to gold’s enduring properties. It is fashioned from a single ingot and was found in Cornwall and is now on long-term long to the British Museum.
If you want to gaze on just solid gold, head for the large tray which is made of 8.5 kgs (19lbs) of the pure stuff. At that weight it can only be for decorative purposes as lifting it even empty would need several servants. The designs have the badges of the Order of Knighthood and celebrate George IV’s chivalric credentials, although whether he was chivalrous is another matter…
A more delicate item that caught my eye was a fine cross which was an early 15th-century reliquary, for keeping precious religious relics, in this case, a piece of Christ’s cross was believed to be housed inside the gold framework.
You can also enjoy a number of paintings and to finish I’ll show you a different view of gold, with a 16th-century Dutch work called The Misers. Here we see the greed and ugliness of the pursuit of gold on the faces of these men counting money in the light of a candle, symbolising the shortness of life.
These are just a few of the many items on display from the Queen’s Collection. Most of the works are kept in Windsor Castle so it is a great opportunity to see them here in London, until 22nd February 2015. For more information click here.