There is much interest in the study of the art of past ages, and in tracing its origin and discovering the influences at work as each new move was made. The architects of the Middle Ages dad much to perfect the styles which took their rise in Byzantium. It was the Eastern, or rather the Byzantine rendering of Eastern art that gave the general plan to the architects and builders of Gothic piles, but to them is due the praise of having kept up the idea formulated on a much smaller scale in Byzantium during the closing days of Roman influence, and of adopting it to a greater and more extended use than it would have been put to had it not been for the suitability of the style to those large piles which were destined to serve such a great and glorious purpose, and perhaps by contrast to Roman architecture gave a new impressiveness to the Christian religion, then being firmly founded, and thus to some extent helped to change the views of the common people. To Architecture is due grateful acknowledgment for the service it rendered to art metal workers of that period ; its styles have been perpetuated by the silver-smiths of later generations. To understand and distinguish the different traits of the art which was first practised in Byzantium, the striking features, some of which are always apparent, ought to be understood. These features which received their first application or interpretation began in architecture and then became incorporated with more or less suitability in the arts practised by metal workers, prominent among whom were the goldsmiths and silversmiths of the Middle Ages. The early art of Byzantium showed the human figure in great prominence. That indicates that the dominating influence of Greek ideas, or of Roman interpretation of them, had not died out, indeed it was for a time strong. A change set in, and the figure which under the touch of the Greek artist seemed so full of life and real beauty, displaying the human form in its best and highest type of perfected development, soon became distorted. Little by little the figure subjects lost their true forms and became so changed that to the admirer of true beauty they were grotesque. Human figures and animal forms were so spoiled in their treatment until the Byzantine figure assumed a type all its own, one which was conventional rather than real. Just in the same way the flowers and emblems and even the common domestic vessels which were often pictured on silver and on coins were crude and wrought without any regard to their real meaning or form. The engravers and designers of the finer and more minute pieces, like the silver coins of the late Roman Empire, lost the art of rendering them real, and formed a strong contrast to the splendid medals of early Greece and Rome, the collection of which gives equal pleasure to the connoisseur of art and to the numismatist. The Byzantine style in metallic art which followed the architectural took from architecture the stereotyped designs in which acanthus scrolls played a part ; and metal work was often enriched with colours by the enameller who made the otherwise nondescript patterns beautiful after his own style. A visit to one of the well preserved Gothic cathedrals in England or on the Continent of Europe dating from pre-Reformation days affords pleasure and instruction to the connoisseur of silver plate, for it throws much light upon the origin of the designs seen upon the plate fashioned for use during the period of its newness. In architecture, too, may be found the purpose of the introduction of certain features which in lesser objects decorated in the same manner appear meaningless. The styles and designs adopted by artists and craftsmen in the Middle Ages can all be traced to the work of masons and sculptors, painters and carvers who used their greatest abilities in adorning the buildings of the period. It is, therefore, to architecture that we must turn for the primary meaning of such designs and the emblems incorporated in them.
fig13 Pair of Silver Vases and Covers 1758
fig14 Silver Sugar Basket 1784
fig15 Silver Butter Box and Cover 1788