Queen’s University Belfast has an extensive and varied Silver Collection, showcasing world class craftsmanship through an array of exquisite items of historical significance. The Silver Collection is one of the University’s most fascinating assets, including the Sir Robert Hart Collection of chinoiserie, ceremonial graduation maces, and a selection of ornate tableware used for formal dinners.
THE SIR ROBERT HART
The Sir Robert Hart Silver Collection (Goldsmiths’ & Silversmiths’ Co., London, 1888) is an ornate set of table silver gifted to Sir Robert Hart by his staff. The gift acknowledged Hart’s influential career in China at a pivotal time in Sino-Western relations. The Hart silverware is in the chinoiserie style, incorporating decorative elements inspired by Chinese design, and consists of a tureen, a pair of candelabras and four compotiers.
THE JAMES McDONNELL ESQUIRE
The impressive charger on display is part of a ten-piece silver service gifted to James McDonnell Esquire, physician and ‘Founder of Belfast Medicine’. The reverse is elaborately engraved with the signatures of ‘the Nobility, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Belfast vicinity’ who subscribed to produce the service. McDonnell was instrumental in setting up the Belfast Fever Hospital and Dispensary, now the Royal Victoria Hospital, as this generous gift commemorates.
DINING AND ENTERTAINMENT
Silver is regularly used in ceremonial dinners in the Great Hall at Queen’s, with a selection of ornate sugar bowls, milk jugs, gravy boats and candlesticks. Seed Heads (Cara Murphy, 2007) is a functional piece of silver tableware which was commissioned for the Queen’s Collection. It is inspired by the ceremony and grandeur of the Great Hall, and by the surrounding natural environment.
AWARDS AND CEREMONIES
Many objects in the Collection play a role in the various ceremonies of academia. The 18 carat Gold Mace (Goldsmiths’ and Silversmiths’ Co., London, 1909), was given to Queen’s in 1909 as a celebration of its new status as a University, and is used at the Graduation ceremonies.
The beautiful Presentation Seal and Trowel (Gibson and Co. Belfast, 1896), with ivory twist detailing, inset with rubies and emeralds, were presented to George Henry, Earl Cadogan, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, when he laid the Foundation Stone of the Union at Queen’s College, Belfast, in 1896.
The Mulholland Cup for Rowing and Athletics (London, 1866) is an historic trophy, densely engraved with the names of winners dating back to the 1860s.
AN ECLECTIC COLLECTION
Some of the more idiosyncratic items in the collection have been donated by Alumni and friends of Queen’s over the years, including the Silver and Bronze Crucifix (from the J. H. Grundy Bequest). This nineteenth century Russian crucifix in its original leather case once belonged to Felix Yusupov, who was a member of the group of aristocrats who took part in the assassination of the infamous Rasputin (1871-1916), close adviser to the ill-fated Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia.
The pair of Silver Cockerels (presented by the Queen’s University Association in 1960), are purely decorative, but their charm and the excellence of the silverwork has led to them becoming two of the most popular items in the Collection.