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Metal Collection

Curator: Elisabeth Schmuttermeier
The holdings of the Metal Collection comprises objects from Europe and North America, dating from the fourteenth century to the present. From the very beginning, there existed a policy of acquiring contemporary works for the collection as well as historical objects. The collection covers diverse areas of the applied arts including small-scale sculpture, cutlery, clocks, jewellery, goldsmith’s art, lamps, astronomy devices and electro-plated reproductions.
The ca. 20,000 objects of the MAK’s metal collection reflect the aesthetics of European arts and crafts between the 14th and the 21st century. The focuses of these rich holdings include eating utensils, tableware, Renaissance jewelry and contemporary jewelry, Viennese silver objects of the 19th and 20th century, works in metal by the Wiener Werkstätte, pewter vessels and so-called “galvanos”—i.e., duplicates of objects originally crafted from precious metals.

The diverse collection of eating utensils offers a sweeping overview of dining culture from its beginnings to the present day. The oldest spoon in the collection is from the period of the late Roman Empire. The largest individual contribution to the utensil holdings was made by the Viennese banker Albert Figdor, who donated his personal collection in 1935. With this, the MAK’s holdings were augmented by one of the most diverse collections in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, containing outstanding examples of utensils from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Metal objects from the Wiener Werkstätte constitute one of the Metal Collection’s highlights. These items provide a nearly complete overview of this artists’ association’s creative output of utilitarian items made from precious and non-precious metals. (For more on this, please see the “Wiener Werkstätte” collection text“).

The extremely large and high-quality collection of works in gold, which places major emphasis on secular utilitarian items from the period between the 16th and 19th centuries (including pouring and drinking vessels, platters and table settings made of silver, which were often also covered in gold leaf), is one of the largest sections of the metals department. It traces the development of dining culture and thus also reflects the “zeitgeist” of the respective eras. The 17th century, for example, saw the introduction of new drinks such as tea, coffee, and chocolate, and these entailed new types of vessels modeled on those used in the countries from which the drinks themselves came. The collection also includes large and elaborate works of goldsmithery, which served the wealthy classes and the guilds both as representational objects and as capital reserves, as well as rich holdings of sacred and secular candelabras which for centuries served as sources of light. Also important is the inventory of Viennese silver works created between the 18th and the 20th centuries.

A unified ensemble of Renaissance clothing ornaments formed the original core of the museum’s distinctive collection of jewelry. Today, European jewelry of the 19th century and artist-made jewelry from the 20th and 21st centuries by figures including Gerd Mosettig, Peter Skubic, Anna Heindl, Fritz Maierhofer, Manfred Nisslmüller, Florian Ladstätter, Andrea Maxa Halmschlager, Susanne Hammer, Gijs Bakker, Emmy van Leersum and Thomas Hoke represent this collection’s central focus.

Cast iron objects from the 19th century constitute a further emphasis of the collection. These often austere-looking black objects appeal above all to connoisseurs, since sculptures, reliefs and jewelry items which are made from a metal which is in and of itself worthless derive their value solely from successfully employed artistic ideas and forms. Important holdings of cast-iron works came to the MAK from the former “k. k. Nationalfabriksprodukten-Kabinett” (a display collection of manufactured products run by the Imperial and Royal Government), while a second—larger—block came from the lace and cast iron collection donated to the museum by Bertha von Pappenheim in 1935.

The important group of 19th-century galvanoplastic works resulted from the newly founded museum’s original goal of creating a collection featuring models of form and décor for the benefit of the arts and crafts professions. In order to facilitate a typology of the utilitarian items, objects which could not be procured as originals were represented by galvanoplastic copies or plaster casts. Galvanos stemming from other civilizations which served as models for European forms provide significant clues as to cultural-historical development and cultures’ mutual influencing of one another, and thus represent an important part of the collection.

The MAK Metal Collection also includes rich holdings of non-precious metal objects (journeyman and master creations of past centuries, as well as ornamental locks and wrought-iron works such as keys, locks, guild symbols, grave crosses and balcony railings) ranging from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. A special position within the collection is occupied by the 160 old Viennese clocks from the collection of Franz Sobek: these were made between 1760 and the second half of the 19th century, and are now one of the attractions at the MAK branch Geymüllerschlössel in Vienna’s 18th district

Highlights of the Metal Collection are exhibited above all in the Empire – Biedermeier section of the MAK Permanent Collection. The development of metal objects’ formal richness, on the other hand, is integrated in the interconnected concept of the MAK DESIGN LAB, in interactive thematic areas devoted to topics such as Cooking, Eating and Drinking.

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