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The Bowes Museum 2002

Ivan was the guest curator of this important exhibition which examined the historical development of sugar as a sculptural medium. Its main focus was a remarkable collection of confectioner's moulds, tools and designs (example above). Dating from between 1780 and 1825, this assemblage had at some time been the property of a confectioner called Prati who worked for the Royal House of Savoie. With the help of Bowes Museum curator of ceramics Howard Coutts, food historian Peter Brears and sculptor Tony Barton, Ivan used the moulds to re-create an Empire plateau dessert (c.1820s).

A view of the corner of the plateau.

Gilded pastillage trophies made from the mould on the right.

The Princess de Lamballe

Some of the earlier moulds in the collection date from the period just before the French Revolution and almost certainly originated in the household of the Princesse de Lamballe, Marie Therese Louise de Savoie-Carignan (1749-92). A favourite of Marie Antoinette, the Princess was murdered during the Terror in 1792. One of the moulds is carved with her coat of arms, another with the ciphers of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (right). This particular mould also features a cartouche to make sugar table markers and a pastillage basket.

A tiny sugar basket of cobweb delicacy, finer than any ever made of porcelain. Behind is a sugar tazza with gilded dolphin legs.

Baskets were pressed out of moulds like that illustrated above. Excess sugar paste was scrapped off with the little brass tool or with tiny boxwood squeegees. Behind the basket is a boxwood former to wrap the pastillage 'mosaic' round to give it the form of a basket. The leaves and centre of the miniature cauliflower were pressed from another mould and then assembled.

A miniscule pastillage basket on socle with 'jewel fruit' cucumbers.

Another tiny pastillage basket with 'jewel fruit' cauliflowers and cucumbers.

A design for a pastillage pièce montée, from the collection of water colour designs by Prati (1820s). This is actually a kind of sugar paste mobile. The lanterns, parrots and ballettes would have all trembled as the guests touched the table.

A pièce montée in the form of a triumphal arch with its gilded pastillage trophies, made from wooden moulds which once belonged to the Royal House of Savoie.

A view of the Empire dessert setting.

A hardwood confectioner's mould (1780s), carved with motifs to make pastillage trophies.

A pastillage table marker emblazoned with the Princesse de Lamballe's arms.

A basket mould (detail) carved with the ciphers of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

A sugar basket, probably intended as a bon-boniere, made from the mould above. This novelty item may have been used to serve bon-bons to Marie Antoinette at one of the Princesse de Lamballe's suppers. It is chastening to reflect that the sugar it contained was probably harvested by Caribbean slaves - a much more evocative image of aristocratic high living than the false story about the ill-fated queen suggesting that the poor 'eat cake'.

These tiny sugar paste baskets were popular through the second half of the eighteenth century into the nineteenth century. They were classified as a type of 'sugar toy' and filled with little bon-bons and 'jewel fruits', were given to the guests as gifts. The moulds above were carved between 1780 and 1820. Those made of boxwood were carved by the confectioner Prati, probably also the author of the watercolour designs below.

A design for a pastillage pièce montée in the form of a putto in a chariot being drawn by a hunting poodle (watercolour 1820s).

In addition to the displays based on the Royal Savoie confectionery collection, the exhibition also featured a number of others. These outlined the history of the edible table ornament in Europe, from the fifteenth century entremet to the Second Empire pièce montée. As well as sugarwork, there were displays of moulded ices and jellies, plus many of the tools and equipment used by eighteenth and nineteenth century confectioners and ornament makers.

Literature: Ivan Day, Royal Sugar Sculpture Bowes Museum 2002 (ISBN 0-9502375-1-5)

Click on the links above to see more images from Royal Sugar Sculpture exhibition.

All photographs by Francesco Radaeli and Ivan Day (courtesy of Bowes Museum)

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