This epergne is among the largest and most impressive of neo-classical examples made towards the end of the eighteenth century; its scale is second only to the example made in 1780 by James Young in the Palace of Queluz in Portugal. The chasing and engraving around the pierced decoration on the present example is exceptional in the quality of its execution.
The epergne, or surtout de table, was introduced from France at the beginning of the eighteenth century. As early as the 1720s one appears in a royal inventory described as an 'Aparn' evidently a misunderstanding of the French word épargner (to save), meaning to save space on the table.
William Pitts I, free in 1784, was the son of Thomas, not only a specialist epergne maker but supplier of top quality goods for other goldsmiths such as Parker & Wakelin to retail; see, for example, the Harcourt wine coolers, Sothebys, London, 20 November 2003, lot 197. William Pitts's workshop from 1786 was at 26 Litchfield Street, St Anne’s, Soho. Epergnes form the bulk of his surviving work from before 1800, but later in his career he also made large-scale cast candelabra.
The Maitland arms are presumably for a member of the family of the Earls of Lauderdale.
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