The emergence of London’s learned societies – the Royal Society, founded in 1660 and the Society of Antiquaries in 1717 – gave new imperative for the need for accurate draughtsmen. This drawing was made by John Talman when he was first director of the Society of Antiquaries to record the remarkable discovery of a twelfth-century gold and enamelled ciborium, one of the most important pieces of English medieval goldsmith’s work. Made in 1717, this drawing was designed to record the decoration of the cup – six enamelled scenes from the Old Testament - and is one of three versions Talman made at this date. The decoration of the cup was subsequently seriously damaged, meaning that the present sheet offers important evidence for its original condition.
John Talman was an architect, antiquary and avid art collector. The eldest son of the architect William Talman, he was born in King Street, St James’s and educated at Eton. In August 1709 Talman went to Italy, in the company of the young designer William Kent, who was heading to Rome to study painting. As an antiquarian, Talman was particularly assiduous in recording the ecclesiastical treasures he encountered. A catholic convert, he knew Pope Clement XI, himself an antiquary, who granted him access to the Vatican treasuries. He also knew Cardinal Ottoboni, the principal artistic patron of Clementine Rome; in 1710 Talman became a member of the Accademia dell’Arcardia. Talman returned to Britain in the spring of 1717 in time for the founding of the Society of Antiquaries in Fleet Street at the Mitre Tavern in July. He was elected the first director, in charge of the drawings, prints and books of the Society; this drawing was therefore executed in the first months of the Society’s existence and neatly encapsulates its aims. The drawing is also the first record of the Warwick Ciborium: Talman’s drawing is inscribed: ‘about august 1717 it was bought at a Braziers shop in Londn.’ Talman made two further versions of this sheet which he sent to two of the greatest antiquaries of the day: Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (Society of Antiquaries, Harleian Collection, vol.II, f.30) and Richard Gough (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 43, no.84). The Harley drawing records that the ciborium had been acquired by Mr George Holmes Deputy Record Keeper in the Tower of London. The Ciborium was acquired by the Earls of Warwick in the nineteenth century, before being purchased by the V&A in 1919.