Blog Reviews

The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau

Blue 40121191The Blue is a novel which wears its research lightly and moves at a cracking pace. Genevieve Planche is a strong-willed and adventurous character, who refuses to settle for the dull life of a porcelain painter and instead sets her sights on becoming a true artist. Recruited as a spy within the Derby factory, with the promise of the teacher she Derby dsc_0291desperately needs, she is soon in deep trouble. In the quest to uncover the secret of making the colour blue, which will revive the porcelain industry, there is double-dealing, murder, and a search for a chemical formula, and all these propel the plot forward to keep the reader hooked.

Derby is not the only factory wanting the elusive colour, and the book takes us to Versailles and the hermitage of Madame de Pompadour, and to the interior of the Sevres Factory for the final climax of the story. Well-researched and well-written, this will please anyone who loves the art of ceramics or a cracking adventure.

The Planches were real figures, and Derby porcelain was at the height of its popularity in the 18th Century. Nancy Bilyeau skilfully weaves the facts and fiction together to produce a highly entertaining glimpse of the world of porcelain.

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Blog Cabinet of Curiosities Seventeenth Century Life

Cabinet of Curio-stories – An Apostle Spoon

Apostle Spoon

I wonder what this spoon, which has survived for three hundred years, has stirred, or served, since it was first made? It is a 17thC Apostle spoon with an engraving of `Ave Maria` on the bowl. There are also further marks and chasings made during the Edwardian era, so it has obviously been used over the years – perhaps to serve sugar, or tea. Generations of servants may have lovingly polished it, or perhaps it has been bartered from hand to hand through trade, secretly through gambling or crime, or maybe it just sat on a cushion in a cabinet in some wealthy Catholic household.

An apostle spoon has this name because the stem bears an image of an apostle or other saint on the handle. These spoons  were particularly popular before the reformation, when Catholicism was England’s main religion, and belief in patron saints was still strong. This particular spoon was possibly made as a demonstration piece as it features St Eligius, who is the patron saint of gold and silversmiths. St Eligius is usually shown with a crook, and a church in one hand.

St Eligius’s story – Eligius was trying to shoe a difficult horse, so to avoid upsetting the horse any more, Eligius miraculously removed one of the horse’s forelegs, shod the hoof, and then miraculously reattached the leg to the horse. (Don’t try this at home!) For this reason, he became a saint associated with blacksmiths, and then with all metalworkers.

Usually apostle spoons were in a set of thirteen. They featured the twelve disciples, with the thirteenth showing Jesus. This particular one was called the ‘Saviour’ or ‘Master’ spoon, however The British Museum in London has a Tudor set with a figure of the Virgin Mary instead. the idea originated in the early-sixteenth century. The name first appeared in the will of  a woman called Amy Brent who, in 1516, listed as items – “XIII sylver spones of J’ hu and the XII Apostells.” Tudor and early Stuart families gave them as christening presents, but by the time Cromwell came to rule, Puritanism put paid to such elaborate representations, considering them to be ‘idols’. In other parts of Europe, though, this tradition continued until at least the mid-twentieth century.

Few examples of sets of the twelve apostles survive, and complete sets of thirteen, with the figure of Jesus on a larger spoon, are even rarer.

Here are the symbols commonly associated with each saint, and which help to identify who’s who on the individual spoons within a set.

  • 1 Jesus : cross and orb
  • 2 Saint Peter: a sword or a key, sometimes a fish
  • 3 Saint Andrew: a cross
  • 4 Saint James the Greater: a pilgrim’s staff
  • 5 St. John: the cup of sorrow
  • 6 Saint Philip: a staff
  • 7 Saint Bartholomew: a knife
  • 8 Saint Thomas: an oar
  • 9 Saint Matthew: an axe
  • 10 Saint James the Lesser: a fuller’s tool
  • 11 Saint Jude: a carpenter’s set square
  • 12 Saint Simon Zealotes: a saw
  • 13 Judas Iscariot: a bag of money