These exceptionally rare silver candlesticks were made around 1680 by the Deventer silversmith Bartholt Nickels. The chased candlesticks have a square, twelve-fold fluted stem. This column, with a flat, scalloped knop at the bottom, stands in a shallow well in the square base. There are three horizontal mouldings on the column. The square removable drip catcher or bobèche has a ribbed design and a cylindrical capital. The base and the knop are decorated with foliar motifs in the cut-card technique.
The foliar motifs are cut out of a separate sheet of silver and then soldered to the object. This is known as the cut-card or appliqué technique because the ornament is ‘applied’ to the piece. This style of decoration first appeared in France in 1650, but we do not find it in Dutch silver until around 1680. The cut-card technique requires more silver than the usual chasing, engraving or embossing, which makes it an expensive method. This is probably why the technique was in use in the Netherlands for a relatively short time—between around 1680 and 1715. After 1715 the cut-card decoration was merely suggested by chasing the ornaments upwards in the silver.
The Origin of the Model
The shape and style of these candlesticks with a stem in the shape of a column originated in Paris in the sixteen-fifties. The model was described at the time as a flambeau carré or flambeau de cabinet and was so popular that it was made until the end of the seventeenth century. There are relatively many French examples in existence, in brass, china and silver. This model is now very rare in Dutch silver; there are just a few known silver pairs, made in The Hague, Amsterdam, Middelburg and Maastricht. This is the only known set from Deventer.
À la Financière
The appearance of this model of candlestick in the sixteen-fifties coincided with the period when Nicolas Fouquet supported Cardinal Mazarin and, as well as being a banker, also became Louis XIV’s finance minister. It is probably for this reason that candlesticks of this type were referred to as à la financière.
When Louis XIV was still a minor, many members of the aristocracy had taken part in the ‘guerre civile de la Fronde’. Once Louis was old enough to ascend the throne in 1661, his brilliant Superintendent of Finances, Nicolas Fouquet, helped him to improve France’s lamentable financial position after this series of revolts. While he was sorting out the state’s finances, Fouquet took very good care of his own. He built a magnificent château, Vaux-le-Vicomte, near Melun, where he gathered the greatest creative talents of the age and acted as their patron. Louis le Vau was the architect, Charles le Brun decorated the interior and André le Nôtre designed the gardens, for which three villages had to be wiped off the map. Tapestries from the Gobelin workshops, furniture by the most celebrated cabinetmakers, silversmiths who also worked for the court and talents he had discovered himself made this house an unsurpassed harmonious whole. In the kitchens, new luxurious dishes were created with expensive ingredients and, like these candlesticks, were described as à la financière for example ris de veau à la financière.
When Fouquet threw a lavish fête in honour of his employer, the king, on 17 August 1661, he overplayed his hand. The Sun King’s motto was ‘Nec pluribus impar’ (roughly ‘no one is his equal’) and the ostentatious display of wealth Fouquet flaunted in his château flew in the face of this. Fouquet was arrested and spent the rest of his life as a prisoner in Pignerol in the Alps. This event prompted Louis to considerably extend Versailles, landscape the gardens and furnish the palace such that no one could surpass it. He brought in the same architects Fouquet had employed for Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Disseminating the Style
The Huguenots, the French followers of Calvin, fled France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Among them were many of the best craftsmen, who were received with open arms in England, Frankenthal and, above all, the Netherlands. Their skill and knowledge gave a huge boost to many branches of the decorative arts. The latest design fashions, including this type of candlestick, spread throughout the rest of Europe; this model can be found in England and to a lesser extent in Belgium and Holland.
As in every other Dutch town, a silversmith could only practise his trade in Deventer if he was a member of the local guild of silversmiths. The rules for admission were strict. A silversmith or goldsmith had to have served an apprenticeship of at least five years. If the apprenticeship had already been served in another town, the time was reduced to two years. The aspiring silversmith then had to submit proof of competence by producing a ‘masterpiece’. When he succeeded, his maker’s mark and name were struck into the brass guild plate. This important document has survived, so virtually all the silversmiths working in Deventer in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are known. Nickels is number 19 on the guild plate.
Bartholt Nickels was born in Amsterdam on 8 March 1648. He worked from before 1673 until his death in 1713. On 22 May 1673, he married Dorothea Gelinck in Deventer. She was the widow of the Deventer silversmith Frans van Orley and the older sister of Gerhard Gelinck, likewise a silversmith. In 1674, after his marriage to Dorothea, Bartholt became a burgher of the town. In 1677, he was one of the ‘elders’ of the guild.
In 1703, six months after Dorothea’s death, he married again. His second wife was Joanna Wilhelmyna Hoornaert. He had bought a house in Assenstraat in 1692, where he had established his workshop, and later he bought part of Joinck, a country estate in Epse. On 4 November 1713, he was buried in the Lebuinuskerk in Deventer.
Marked on the underside of the base with the Deventer assay mark, the date letter A and the maker’s mark of Bartholt Nickels.