Silver Collar of the Gorinchem Archers' Guild (W32)
This splendid early sixteenth-century silver collar, made in the Dutch city of Gorinchem, consists of openwork links with oak leaves, acorns and figures of birds, deer and St George killing the dragon. The object was made for the Gorinchem Archers’ Guild of St Joris (George) which was a voluntary civic guard. Such civic guards played an important role in the Netherlands in the medieval and early modern period. Their members, often wealthy and influential citizens, protected a town from attack and acted in case of revolt or fire. They also held a night watch and were responsible for closing and opening city gates. Once a year they held a traditional shooting competition, targeting a model of a parrot. The winner was called the ‘guild’s king’ and was given the honour of wearing a ceremonial silver collar and carrying a sceptre on official occasions. His name and the date of the contest were engraved on a silver shield that was then attached to the collar.
The collar in the Wallace Collection has thirty such shields, belonging to different ‘kings’ from 1499 to 1826. This is rare because most of the prize collars belonging to shooters’ or archers’ guilds which have survived have single shields. Some of the best examples of Dutch silver were made for civic guards and some leading artists, including Frans Hals and Rembrandt, were asked to paint group portraits of the members. These large canvases used to hang in halls where the guilds held their meetings, close to target practice grounds called doelen.
After the gilds were abolished in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century, their art collections were dispersed. The collar of the Gorinchem Archers’ Guild came into the possession of the comte de Nieuwerkerke, whose entire collection was bought by Sir Richard Wallace in 1871.
Friday 3 and Tuesday 28 March at 1 pm with Ada de Wit, Curatorial Assistant.
R.F. van Dijk, Gorcums zilver, Gorinchem 1992